THE arrest of nine people by the Rapid Action Battalion in possession of a huge number of COVID-19 and HIV test kits and reagents that have either been past, or about to cross, their expiry date or are substandard during a raid on three organisations at Mohammadpur and Banani in the capital on Thursday is welcome. This is more so, as the law enforcers say, the organisations collect from local sources and import such test kits and reagents, past or about to cross the expiry date, for low prices and then sell them on the domestic market by changing the labels. While all this outright constitutes a fraudulent act, all this could potentially burden public health, with far-reaching, constraining implications, causing harm to both the citizens and the government. What is further worrying is that the officials of the three organisations in question, as the law enforcers say, had sold such tampered kits, reagents and other medical equipment since 2010. This suggests that the seizure of test kits and medical equipment past their expiry date is nothing new and potentially many other individuals and entities could be involved in the procurement of such test kits, reagents and equipment and their sales on the domestic market.
This again suggests that the public health system is potentially fraught with frauds and their fraudulent acts that the government has not adequately attended to. If the government does not sort out the issues that constrain public health, such fraudulent acts could soon cause irreparable damage to the sector that has for about two years been battered by the outbreak of COVID-19, beginning in 2020 and still continuing, and the outbreak of dengue that hardly ceased to make the headlines in 2019. Government negligence to public health in the private sector became evident in October 2020 when it was reported that about 57.96 per cent of the entities that offer health services such as treatment and diagnosis still ran unlicensed. It was reported that time that the Directorate General of Health Services received applications for registration from 13,043 health services entities and 7,560 of them seeking licences for the first time or sought licence renewal were yet to be registered till then. Health services and the business of test kits and medical equipment in private hands appear to have gone mostly unlicensed, worryingly unregulated and disparagingly unmonitored. The events in question, in such a situation, would further add to the woes and erode people’s trust in the public healthcare system.
In view of all this, while the government must ensure that the three organisations that the law enforcers found involved in the business of criminal falsification of the expire date of medical test kits and reagents are deterrently punished, it must also look for other such entities and individuals involved in such criminal offence that harm public health and punish them accordingly. The government must alert all its agencies involved in heath care and the law enforcers to such incidents so that the incidents could be immediately stopped and public health could be saved from fraudulence.
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