After hand sanitisers and face masks, it is now time for the pulse oximeter – a medical device to monitor oxygen levels in the blood – to take over the market with its demand reaching fever pitch.
The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a sudden interest in pulse oximeters among people, leading to a significant surge in its sales. The device is now selling everywhere, from authorised pharmacies to floating shops on footpaths, but at high prices.
Even those who used to sell bed sheets at roadside shops before are now selling the medical device to make quick profits by capitalising on its rising demand.
They are selling the device for anywhere between Tk1,900 and Tk2,350 per unit, while different pharmacies in the capital sell it for Tk2,300-2,400. Earlier, it was sold at Tk1,100-1,200 per unit.
Thus, all of a sudden, the monthly sales of this little-known device have climbed to Tk5 crore, according to data from the Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries.
Both Covid-19 positive patients and suspected patients have been making a dash for this medical device that lets them check their oxygen saturation levels.
Almost all coronavirus patients – who are receiving treatment while staying at home – are buying it.
Currently, around 48 percent of Covid-19 patients are being treated at home, according to the health directorate.
But questions arise about the prices and quality of many such devices. Some patients on social media have vented their anger over faulty readings shown on their devices.
Health experts are of the view that taking oxygen support based on faulty readings on such devices could put patients in danger.
Dr Lelin Chowdhury, chairman of Health and Hope Hospital and a preventive medicine expert, told The Business Standard that oxygen level in blood is measured with a pulse oximeter. Oxygen saturation in a healthy person is between 93 and 96/98. If the oxygen saturation falls below 93, patients require oxygen supply.
Dr Lelin Chowdhury said, "A faulty or substandard device may show wrong readings, which will eventually cause harm to patients rather than bring them any benefit."
"We have already witnessed some incidents of patients falling sick at the shock of seeing false readings," he said.
An uncontrolled business surfaces
Advertisements for pulse oximeters have massively surfaced on social media platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp and IMO.
Messages relating to N95 masks, pulse oximeters and other safety equipment are also being sent to mobile phone users.
One of these two correspondents also received a similar message on his mobile phone. The message read that a pulse oximeter costs Tk2,999, a protective safety pair of goggles Tk369 and an N95 Vent Air Mask Tk199.
However, sources at a leading pharmaceutical company said the import cost of a pulse oximeter device is not more than Tk650. Any company can easily make enough profit by selling it at Tk900, inclusive of marketing and operation costs.
He said Nipro JMI, Opso Saline, Incepta Hygiene & Hospicare, Get-well (RFL) and GME (Abdul Monem Group) are the key importers of medical products, including pulse oximeters.
However, Get-well denied importing the products while there was no reply from Nipro JMI.
When asked about quality control regarding pulse oximeters, Ayub Hossain, spokesperson of the Department of Drug Administration, told The Business Standard that it is a class one medical device and so it does not fit into quality control.
"If anyone asks for a no objection certificate, we check the necessary documents related to quality control. We do not control the quality of pulse oximeters as they are now being used as thermometers."
Faulty readings cause panic for patients
Dr Lelin Chowdhury said one of his patients who returned home after 20 days of treatment recently told him that he needed oxygen support because a pulse oximeter showed his oxygen saturation level at 87 percent.
"Later, he was found to be in good health as the oximeter had reported a wrong reading."
Nevertheless, the patient was frightened, even though he was in good health, he said.
Minhazul Islam, a resident of Badda, has recently recovered from the novel coronavirus after taking treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).
He told The Business Standard that he had observed that every patient of the DMCH had a pulse oximeter in their hands. After learning about the device, he also bought three units of pulse oximeter.
Last week, Minhazul Islam opened an oximeter and saw that his oxygen saturation had dropped to 77 percent and as such he became worried.
But when he opened another device to test the oxygen level, it showed his oxygen level to be normal.