Chemists in Delhi selling masks at high prices over swine flu scare

New Delhi: With Delhi witnessing the worst outbreak of swine flu and doctors stressing people should wear masks to avoid the dreaded viral disease, chemist stores in the capital have started selling masks at exorbitant rates.

Delhi has till now recorded 1,917 cases of swine flu, while six people have died due to the disease.

As per officials at the capital's hospitals designated to treat swine flu, masks that cost mere Rs.2 and Rs.90 were being sold at Rs.50 and Rs.350, respectively.

"There are two different types of face masks to prevent influenza. The first is a one-layered 'routine mask' while the other is the 'N-95' specially made for H1N1 patients and medical teams which monitor the patients.

"However, due to the epidemic and the panicky situation, people have started opting for the N-95 face mask," Sunil Saxena, chief of the emergency department and the nodal officer for swine flu at Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, told IANS.

He said chemist stores have started selling N-95 masks at a price almost three times the original cost.

"The gradation of the N-95 mask is a better one. It can stop a person from getting infected with swine flu even if an infected person sneezes at an arm's distance.

"The routine mask is of a lower capacity and can control if the infected person is 1-1.5 metres away," Saxena said.

He said every droplet during the sneeze can have millions of units of the virus.

The official said pores in the N-95 masks were much more minute and the masks have an air filter mechanism.

However, the routine mask if used properly can also be very effective in preventing the viral disease.

Health experts said the other reason behind the selling of the mask at exorbitant prices was that hospitals were authorised to distribute masks only to their staff and not to patients.

As per official data, RML Hospital since January has distributed 2,000 N-95 masks, while the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has distributed 3,345 N-95 mask to their staff handling swine flu cases.

AIIMS spokesperson Amit Gupta said the hospitals cannot distribute free masks to patients because of their own requirements, and instead the health ministry should take initiatives to control the black-marketing of masks.

"With the increase in swine flu cases, more and more staff are being deployed to handle patients. So we have to fulfill our own requirement first. Chemist stores are taking advantage of the situation. This should be stopped by the government," Gupta told IANS.

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