Pricing mechanism for medical items leads to confusion, shortage in Kerala

An attendant wearing face mask and gloves at a Covid-19 vaccination camp in Kochi. File   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The fixing of maximum retail price of face masks, finger-tip pulse oximeter and other medical items by bringing it under the ambit of the Kerala Essential Articles Control Act has created a chaos in the market and may lead to possible shortage of these products.

While issuing the pricing order, the Food and Civil Supplies department didn’t mention the quality and the specification of the products, which has led to widespread confusion in the sector, complain traders.

The order had fixed the maximum retail price of 15 products last week by which a Personal Protection Equipment kit has to be sold at ₹ 273, a piece of N 95 mask at ₹ 22, a triple layer mask (₹ 3.90), a face shield (₹ 21), a 500 ml bottle of hand sanitiser (₹ 192) a piece of fingertip pulse oximeter (₹ 1500) and oxygen mask at ₹ 54 a piece.

It was following a central government order to “ensure the availability of medical items to common man at fair prices” that the State government fixed the price, on a recommendation forwarded by the Department of Health and Family welfare.

The prospect of facing legal action including imprisonment up to one year and fine awaits those who are convicted for the violation of the Act.

The government order, said Dr. Shibu Vijayan, a public health expert, is silent on the quality specifications of these products or the outlets at which they would be available. This will lead to serious issues in the health sector. There needs to be transparency on the quality parameters and the pricing mechanism and outlets at which it would be available, failing which low quality materials and products would flood the market. It will also lead to utter chaos in the health sector, leave adverse impacts on covid care and management and sabotage the public health system of the State, cautioned Dr. Vijayan.

According to R. Devadas, the State president of the All Kerala Scientific and Surgical Dealers Association, many medical shops have reportedly stopped selling these products as the price fixed for these items did not match even the production cost.

Though the Association has not formally issued any call for stopping the sale of these products, it is understood that a large number of members have stopped its trade. A situation has evolved where one has to sell the products at a price lower than the procurement price, which is untenable, said Mr. Devadas.

The flat rate for ₹ 65 fixed for surgical gloves, pointed out Rajesh Pillai, Ernakulam district secretary of the association, was illogical as gloves come in different specifications and quality. It's also the case with several products, he said.

“I have stopped selling triple ply and N 95 masks, which was procured at a higher price than fixed by the government. I would incur huge loss if I sell them at the government price,” said P.K. Indukala, who runs a medical shop in Kochi.

Responding to the developments, P. Venugopal, secretary, Civil Supplies Department, apprehended that the confusion over the pricing was created to sabotage the price regulation drive. Earlier, there was no pricing mechanism for these products and it was free for all situation that prevailed. The government notification is intended to prevent hoarding of products and end fleecing of consumers. The quality parameters applicable for the products will hold good in the State, he added.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 12:24:19 PM |

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