Staunton, September 5 – Russian drug companies advertised as safe and effective coronavirus medications that were neither. The government aided their efforts at profiteering by purchasing more than 1.6 billion rubles (200 million US dollars) of them. And Russians spent even more on medications that failed to help them and, in many cases, harmed their health.
Those are the unsettling conclusions of a new Novaya gazeta investigative study reported today by journalist Ivan Zhilin who strongly suggests that the government and the corporations worked together for mutual profit but at the expense of the Russian medical system and the health of ordinary Russians (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/05/86963-zolotaya-pustyshka).
The total amount Russians spent on these medications is as yet unknown, but the Russian government, according to its own records, paid out 1,619,295,682 rubles since the start of the pandemic for medications that the authorities knew or had good reason to know had never been tested as required.
Because the government was buying these medications for its hospitals, Russians assumed that those in positions of authority knew that they would work and went ahead and purchased more of them on their own. But the only thing this ultimately guaranteed was greater profits in the hands of businesses with ties to the Kremlin.
But the powers that be did not limit themselves to purchasing these goods, some officials with ties to the pharmaceutical industry openly lobbied on behalf of drugs that had not been shown to be effective or safe. Among these, Zhilin says, was Sverdlovsk Governor Yevgeny Kuybashev.
Government purchases of and support for medications that cannot “in principle” work has a long history in Russia, the Novaya gazeta investigation reports. Getting a medication out early and profiting from that has driven the actions of many Russian officials and businessmen, most recently in the case of the Sputnik-5 coronavirus vaccine.
The Russian Association of Clinical Research tried to stop the government from registering that medication given that it had not been tested as required and may in fact have unknown side effects. But the day after it released the report, the Kremlin went ahead with registration and claimed a Russian victory.
What makes this story so disturbing is not only the waste of money and the threat to health such unproven medications represent but the way in which the rush to put such drugs on the market is undermining public confidence in medicine and leading ever more people in Russia and elsewhere to turn to quacks, thus depressing the state of public health still further.