While the death toll of Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) patients continues to rise, the federal government has sent samples of the suspected medicines to the Central Drug Testing Laboratory (CDTL) in Karachi for further investigation.
None of the eight different committees constituted by the Punjab government has so far prepared a satisfactory or comprehensive report probing the reasons why the PIC’s free medicine has now claimed over 80 lives. More damage is expected, as the total number of patients who might be at risk after taking free medicine from the hospital is about 46,000.
Dr Javed Akram, the principal of Allama Iqbal Medical College and head of a 22-member committee investigating the incident, had vowed to submit the report investigating the cause of the so-far-mystery disease within 48 hours, but has still to do so.
“Tests and investigations are under way and we are working on it,” Dr Akram told The Express Tribune on Tuesday. Dr Akram, however, feared more deaths, saying the death toll could reach an alarming figure of 100 to 150. He said his team had asked the pharmaceutical companies to provide a record of their medicine.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also visited Jinnah Hospital and told reporters he would take ‘stern action’ against those responsible. The CM also announced Rs500,000 in compensation for each of the victims’ families.
Sharif said the investigation was being carried out and the culprits would be brought to task soon. However, he did not give a timeframe for completion of the probe.
In Karachi, meanwhile, Dr Obaid Ali, analyst at the CDTL, confirmed he had received samples of the three drugs which were given to cardiac patients at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC). It is believed that one of the drugs, given to heart patients at the PIC, caused bone marrow suppression and aplastic anemia, resulting in the deaths of patients within a few days. Heart patients reached the hospitals with complains of non-stop bleeding from different parts of the body and dark spots all over.
Local experts in Karachi wondered how a medicine produced for the treatment of cardiac diseases could affect bone marrow.
Dr Tahir Shamsi, the medical director of the National Institute of Blood Disease & Bone Marrow Transplantation (NIBD), a pioneer of bone marrow transplantation in the country, said that the ill-effect caused by the tablets is still a mystery, because ingredients used in medicines for the treatment of cardiac illnesses do not contain generic drugs that cause bone marrow suppression.
Law enforcement has also been busy. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) seized a huge quantity of the suspected medicines during a raid on the warehouse of Pharmawise Lab (PVT) Limited, which included 29,400 tablets of one of the drugs, The Express Tribune has learned.
The investigation has revealed that three more pharmaceutical laboratories which supplied the suspected medicines to the PIC are situated in Karachi and the owners of these pharmaceuticals are likely to be arrested shortly by the FIA Sindh chapter, sources at the FIA further revealed.
A protest was held outside the PIC on Tuesday by relatives of patients who died of the mysterious disease, as well as those who are not now receiving sufficient medicines for free from the PIC since the scandal broke.
Muhammad Asghar, whose father died of the mysterious disease, said his father took medicines from the PIC and a week ago fell ill. “Bleeding started through vomiting and urination and caused his death,” he said.
Ali, who lives near MAO College, said his father and mother both were heart patients. “My father died after using medicines given by the PIC and now my mother isn’t taking any medicines. She says she wants to go to her husband and die. Our whole family has scattered and I have no idea what to do.”
Commenting on the possibility of the medicine reaching Karachi, the director of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD), Prof Dr Khan Shah Zaman, said that doctors are aware of the problem and have already taken preventive measures.
With additional reporting by Rameez Khan, Asad Kharal and Rana Tanveer in Lahore.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.