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Finland not alone in medical supplies scam

Dozens of countries have bought poor quality or unusable medical equipment since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

An employee inspects a batch of masks at Newpharm's factory in Kineshma, Russia. Image: Vladimir Smirnov / AOP

A consignment of sub-standard protective medical equipment led to the resignation of the Managing Director of Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency, Tomi Lounema, on Friday as well as an investigation into the role a tabloid celebrity played in the botched deal.

Two million masks and 230,000 high-grade respirators were delivered to Helsinki Airport on Tuesday. They were intended to be added to National Emergency Supply Agency’s stockpile, but were found on Wednesday to have fallen short of minimum standards for use in Finnish hospitals.

The previous week the agency supplied face masks and equipment to Finnish healthcare workers that were up to eight years past their use-by date.

However, Finland is not the only country to experience problems related to the sale and supply of medical equipment. The BBC reported (siirryt toiseen palveluun) this week that the pandemic is leading to a “surge in fake medicines”, as unscrupulous scammers seek to capitalise on the demand for supplies.

As early as March, Interpol's anti-drug crime unit Pangea made 121 arrests in different 90 countries over the course of just seven days, resulting in the seizure of medicines and protective equipment worth over €12.8m.

Faulty medical aprons in France

In France, a video posted on Facebook (siirryt toiseen palveluun) has received widespread attention as it shows healthcare workers demonstrating the ease with which a medical apron falls apart.

The batch of faulty aprons was delivered to the Timone Hospital in Marseille, and authorities in France are now investigating their origin.

In the state of New Jersey in the United States, a hospital purchased 1,000 respirators that were subsequently found to be unfit for professional medical use. The supply of the N95 respirators to the Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, Bergen County is now also under investigation.

Steep price rises

The price of certain medicines and equipment is also rising due to the pandemic. In most cases this is caused by demand outstripping supply, but in others it is caused by rumours of the potential curative effect of certain medicines.

US President Donald Trump’s championing of the medication hydroxychloroquine, which is used to prevent and treat malaria and is also used by lupus patients, has led to its price in Pakistan rising from a hundred euros per kilogram to more than 1,100 euros.

Criminal activity suspected

Authorities in Italy and China are also investigating how a consignment of respirators sent by China to Italy as a gesture of goodwill ended up for sale in a department store in the small town of Letovice in the Czech Republic.

Authorities in the eastern Czech town became suspicious when they noticed Chinese and Italian flags on the side of the packages.

Altogether, the batch contained 110,000 respirators, which were sent to Rome by bus once the discovery was made.

The case alarmed Italian authorities, and 18 ventilators donated to Italy by Germany were picked up by an Italian military transport plane to avoid attempted theft.