In order to avoid ‘complications’, the government is trying to keep the lid on the first autopsy report of a patient who died of an adverse reaction to medicines he received from the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).
According to the report, the cause of death was stated to be the presence of metallic poison in the body, The Express Tribune has learnt.
“Metallic poison might have been caused due to excessive amounts of mercury, arsenic, cadmium or beryllium. Excessive amounts of these metals in the body is dangerous and can lead to death,” an official in the office of the chief chemical examiner said, while requesting anonymity.
There are strict instructions from the highest possible authority not to reveal anything about the report. “Some influential personalities, comprising some pharmaceutical companies and doctors from the PIC, are lobbying for the report’s findings to be kept under wraps,” the official maintained.
The chief chemical examiner has submitted the report to the concerned authorities; however, health department officials did not respond to any queries regarding the report.
A high ranking official told The Express Tribune that the reason the post-mortem was conducted after this long was because it involved some legal complications. He further said the post-mortem can be carried out only after the registration of an FIR, which was registered in this case four days ago.
A doctor in the health department said that they could not reveal the report until the samples of the medicines, which have been sent abroad for testing, are thoroughly checked.
He said that only a small amount of arsenic or mercury could not be fatal and the matter is going to be further investigated.
The doctor further explained that at least 10 grams of lead, mercury or arsenic can damage the body; otherwise the body doesn’t accept it.
He added that a single tablet is 5 milligrams in most cases, much smaller than 10 grams.
“However, the patients who died had been using the medicines for the last two to three months and the cause could have been ‘chronic poisoning’ from arsenic or any such metal,” he maintained.
So far, 106 people have died in different public hospitals of Lahore due to the alleged reaction. The health department, however, has confirmed 79 deaths, so far. Out of these, only one autopsy has been carried out. Eight different teams, comprising different experts, are probing into the incident, while three pharmaceutical companies have been sealed.
Govt hints at setting up judicial commission
On its part, the federal government on Friday hinted at setting up a judicial commission to probe the issue.
“I’m all set to consult with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s top leadership to form a judicial commission [to probe the issue],” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
On Friday, lawmakers in the Senate criticised the government over its failure in setting up a regulatory authority to deal with such issues. Senate Chairman Farooq H Naek also referred the matter of the spurious drug case to the Senate Standing Committee of the Cabinet Division.
Meanwhile, officials have said that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will investigate around 500 drug inspectors promoting medicines being produced illegally by local pharmaceutical companies, one of them even working with an expired licence.
Pharma CEOs get five-day physical remand
A judicial magistrate on Friday extended the physical remand of three owners of pharmaceutical companies for five days in the FIA’s custody.
The FIA produced the accused – Tahir Azam, Chaudhry Nadir and Muhammad Wasim – in Irfan Basra’s court seeking 11 days physical remand. However, the magistrate granted them a five-day physical remand, instead.
(With additional reporting by Zahid Gishkori and Sumera Khan in Islamabad and Rana Yasif in lahore)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2012.