Shortages of essential supplies used to prevent, diagnose, and treat COVID-19 have been a global concern, and price speculation and hikes may have negatively influenced access. This study identifies variability in prices of products acquired through government-driven contracts in Ecuador during the early pandemic response, when the highest mortality rates were registered in a single day. Data were obtained from the National Public Procurement Service (SERCOP) database between March 1 and July 31, 2020. A statistical descriptive analysis was conducted to extract relevant measures for commonly purchased products, medical devices, pharmaceutical drugs, and other goods. Among the most frequently purchased products, the greatest amounts were spent on face masks (US$4.5 million), acetaminophen (US$2.2 million), and reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay kits (US$1.8 million). Prices varied greatly, depending on each individual contract and on the number of units purchased; some were exceptionally higher than their market value. Compared with 2019, the mean price of medical examination gloves increased up to 1,307%, acetaminophen 500 mg pills, up to 796%, and oxygen flasks, 30.8%. In a context of budgetary constraints that actually required an effective use of available funds, speculative price hikes may have limited patient access to health care and the protection of the general population and health care workers. COVID-19 vaccine allocations to privileged individuals have also been widely reported. Price caps and other forms of regulation, as well as greater scrutiny and transparency of government-driven purchases, and investment in local production, are warranted in Ecuador for improved infectious disease prevention.
Address correspondence to Esteban Ortiz-Prado, One Health Research Group, Universidad de las Américas, Quito, Ecuador Calle de los Colimes y Avenida De los Granados, Quito 170137, Ecuador, E-mail: email@example.com or Irene Torres, Fundación Octaedro, El Zurriago E8-28, 170804, Quito, Ecuador, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors’ addresses: Esteban Ortiz-Prado, One Health Research Group, Faculty of Medicine, Universidad de las Americas, Quito, Ecuador, and Department of Cell Biology, Physiology and Immunology, Universidad de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, E-mail: email@example.com. Raul Fernandez-Naranjo, One Health Research Group, Faculty of Medicine, Universidad de las Americas, Quito, Ecuador, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeferson Torres-Berru, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain, and Instituto Superior Tecnológico Sudamericano, Loja, Ecuador, E-mail: email@example.com. Rachel Lowe, Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom, and Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Irene Torres, Fundacion Octaedro, Quito, Ecuador, E-mail: email@example.com.