A shocking report published recently reveals the greed and audacity of several health officials who purchased more than 20,000 counterfeit N95 masks and supplied them across 10 hospitals to staffers treating Covid-19 patients. Questioning the standard of the masks, some doctors refused to use them, and that is when the scam came under scrutiny. The investigation further highlights that officials of the state-run Central Medical Stores Depot (CMSD) did not bother to follow any of the procedures to check the quality or specifications of the products, or to fix their prices. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed a graft case against Abdur Razzaq, chairman of medical equipment supplier JMI Hospital Requisite MFG Ltd, and six health officials, including Dr Md Jakir Hossain Khan, the then CMSD deputy director.
It is deplorable, to say the least, that our health officials would stoop so low as to risk the health and well-being of hospital staff who are providing life-saving treatment to the public. But it begs the question: what checks and balances were in place to ensure that proper procedures were followed in the procurement of such a vital protective gear? When a survey committee is supposed to receive products after examining their authenticity, why was no such monitoring carried out in this case?
It is somewhat reassuring that the perpetrators came under ACC’s spotlight in their first attempt to supply locally manufactured respirators and N95 masks, but the authorities as well as law enforcement officials must ensure that such practices come to an end altogether and that all involved, including higher-ups benefitting from corruption, are identified and brought to book. Several other hospitals and doctors across the country have voiced concerns over the authenticity of the masks—a crucial medical equipment in our fight against Covid-19—being provided to them, and it is imperative to investigate whether similar corruption took place in other cases as well. We have already lost many doctors and nurses to the virus and we simply cannot afford to lose any more—that too, to officials’ greed.