Used, dirty, some bloodstained medical gloves – washed and treated with dyes to make them look new. An investigation of the Cnn which lasted months uncovered an alarming scam involving the importation of millions of counterfeit medical gloves, shipped to the United States from Thailand.
The urgent need for these devices, during the entire coronavirus emergency, together with the necessary temporary relaxation of some rules on their import (also in Italy there has been this relaxation), are two elements that have contributed to creating a tempting opportunity for some unscrupulous producers. The case somehow reminds us of the episodes of non-compliant masks, imported into Italy and Europe from China with fake certificates.
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Nitrile gloves are “currently the most dangerous commodity on Earth”, according to reports from CNN Doug Stein, an expert in personal protective equipment who has been importing them from Asia for over 30 years. In the spotlight there are nitrile gloves, and not latex ones, whose use in healthcare has been blocked by the US Food and Drug Administration (Fda), or those in vinyl, of slightly lower quality and mainly used in the industrial sector. and in food production and distribution. These gloves are produced almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand.
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United States: the case
It all starts between February and March 2021, when a US company warns the authorities, and in particular the FDA, that it has received cheap, recycled and some visibly soiled gloves – with pen marks or traces of dirt – from a Thai company. By contacting those who had imported them into the US, many importers did not respond. However, one of them stated that he was unable to sell them to health companies, as originally planned. The gloves were redistributed at discounted prices to food factories, restaurants and hotels.
As reported by the CEO of the American company that denounced the case, the documents accompanying the gloves, with inspection reports carried out by independent companies, indicated that the gloves were new and pristine. But these documents were fake. The US Department of Homeland Security confirms a criminal investigation is ongoing.
The FDA has blocked, at the port level, all goods coming from the Thai company in question. The Thai FDA is also moving and has made various raids within this company, evicting the headquarters, with investigations and seizures of materials. The owner was arrested but in fact the company was not closed, and the Thai FDA deputy secretary general Supattra Boonserm indicates that it simply moved, as authorities later raided a similar facility. In short, this “glove circus” is not over, also because the demand remains high.
The scam appears to be gigantic in size and the expert Doug Stein he believes there could be a turn in the billions of dollars. Certainly the case concerns tens of millions of gloves and Stein’s fear is that some packaging has actually reached doctors and patients, always hoping – something we don’t know for sure – that it hasn’t harmed anyone.
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For some time, the expert has been providing professional advice to sellers and buyers, warning them of possible scams, for which the suspicion must start simply from the cost, when the prices are quite low. The Fda, which has adopted specific measures to improve controls, reminds and points out that it is possible to import the devices with a relaxation of the rules – which in the absence of the emergency are more rigid and give rise to longer bureaucratic steps – provided that that they comply with standards and that there is mandatory labeling.
As in the case of masks, for which the experts have illustrated the essentiality of the presence of specific wordings, something similar also applies to gloves (compliance with UNI EN 420 and other standards). And in any case, as Stein explains, the fact that these devices destined for the US were packaged in foreign-language boxes should have raised an alarm bell. Waiting for more information and possibly even more precise figures on the figures, we are all – importers, buyers and end users – with our eyes wide open.