Beware of Pandemic Fraud

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaAs well as giving rise to heroism, crises often lead to tales of theft.

    WHILE pretending to reach out a helping hand, in fact, they are trying to steal something from under the water. The law enforcement authorities must be resolute in punishing crooks that try to defraud us at this difficult time.

    At the beginning of April, a well-known drug company Kimia Farma imported 300,000 Biozek brand rapid test kits from the Netherlands. It subsequently came to light that these had not been manufactured in Europe, and they were of questionable accuracy. The supplier is alleged to have made similar false claims to sell its products in a number of other nations, including Italy, Macedonia and Britain.

    An investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project – of which Tempo is a member – discovered how this deception happened. The Biozek validation certificate used by the producer, Inzek International Trading BV, was exactly the same as the certificate owned by a Chinese company, Hangzhou AllTest Biotech Co Ltd. However, on its company website and in a press release to the media, Inzek claims that Biozek is a Dutch product.

    Not only was the origin of the product falsified, but the validity of the test was also not as good as promised. Two research institutes in Britain and Spain found that the claimed accuracy of above 90 percent could not be proved.

    As well as reporting the case to the police, Kimia Farma should immediately withdraw the rapid test kits from the health care centers in its network. As of last week, these bogus products had been distributed to at least 14 provinces.

    The impact of inaccurate rapid Covid-19 rapid test kids could be very dangerous. Patients who receive the wrong test results could go on to endanger themselves and the people around them. Those who have been infected with the coronavirus but been told they are negative could spread the disease to others.

    Conversely, those people who are actually healthy but who have been told they are positive for coronavirus will take up the beds in already overwhelmed hospital wards. On top of this, there is the psychological impact they will suffer because of this false-positive result for a possibly fatal sickness.

    A number of incidents in the last two months have indicated there are indeed inaccuracies with the Covid-19 rapid test results. In Sukabumi, West Java, tests carried out on 300 police officers at the Police Officer Candidate School were initially said to be positive, but the actual figures were very different. Swab tests carried out later showed only 82 police officers were positive.

    In Bogor, West Java rapid tests on 51 health care workers at the Bogor City Hospital on April 20 resulted in false positives. And finally, in Banjar Serokadan, Bali, 443 people were isolated after being declared positive with the coronavirus, but subsequent swab tests on the two clusters showed completely different results.

    In the future, the Covid-19 task force and the health ministry must be more careful when checking the suitability of health care supplies coming into this country. We could learn from the British experience. That nation canceled the purchase of 2 million Covid-19 rapid test kits from China after discovering that there was a serious problem with their accuracy. The British medical authorities asked experts from Oxford University to examine the kits that were to be imported.

    It may seem excessive to ask for certification for health supplies at a time of crisis like this, but we need a minimum suitability standard to prevent the public from falling victim. If not, there will be confusion over which coronavirus test is accurate and which is not.

    The need for minimum standards is becoming more urgent as there is an increasing number of healthcare suppliers offering coronavirus tests at a range of prices. There are also many types of tests on offer. Without regulation from the health authorities, ordinary people will be very prone to be tricked with bogus tests.

    Taking the right decision at this time of emergency is not easy. The key is the availability of valid information. When a policy is drawn up in haste without satisfactory data, mistakes are highly likely. Therefore, once again transparency is absolutely crucial. Without this, it is difficult to produce accountable policies. Our chances of emerging safely from the Covid-19 pandemic could continue to shrink.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine