The Supreme Court has summoned the authorities involved in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) free medicine disaster. As the court took suo motu notice, the death toll was reported to have reached 114, with at least 400 people currently under treatment at various hospitals in Lahore. The case will be heard on Tuesday (today).
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took notice on a note initiated by one of the sitting judges of the apex court, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, about the loss of precious lives, allegedly due to use of spurious drugs or because of wrong prescriptions.
“It seems that provisions of Articles 9 and 14 of the Constitution have not been adhered to strictly,” the chief justice stated in a press release. The court has also issued notices to the attorney general, the Punjab advocate general, the secretaries of health in the federal and Punjab government, the inspector general of Punjab and the chief of the Federal Investigation Agency to appear and file their replies to the petition.
Justice Jillani’s note said that he had greeted the PIC news with “immense shock and concern”.
The development comes as the FIA and police complained that the PIC and health authorities have not been particularly cooperative during the investigations. The blame game has certainly begun in earnest, with Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah on Monday placing the blame squarely on Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister.
PPMA press conference
The issue amplified further on Monday as the Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PPMA) broke its silence with a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club.
Representatives of the association from across the country faced the media and said that their basic motive is to denounce the faulty allegations against the industry by the media and the government.
“The Punjab government report said so far that none of the tests in the labs proved our medicines to be sub-standard. We don’t want to be blamed for something that is not confirmed as yet,” said Muhammad Asad, the chairman of PPMA. He also protested against the unwarranted arrests of their industry men and said that it is wrong to put all blame alone on the pharmaceutical industry.
The media, in response, said that it is baseless to claim innocence based on the report of the Punjab government as it was not accepted and thus the samples had been sent to the Central Drug Testing Laboratory in Karachi. The representatives then shared their nine-point reprisal to defend their stance.
The pharmaceutical industry exports medicines to more than 60 countries around the world and provides direct and indirect jobs to almost four million people in the country. “If the media continues to bash the local industry with words as ‘qatil dawaien’, ‘zehreeli dawaien’ what will happen to the 80 per cent of people who consume locally-manufactured medicine and those who are below the poverty line and cannot afford medicines by foreign companies,” he said.
“The impact has already started unfolding as just recently one of our foreign orders was canceled,” he said “We contribute a lot of revenue to the government; what will happen if this stops.”
Asad added that other grievances felt by the industry are the price-policy, which is not at par with multinationals in the sector.
The reporters were not satisfied, however, as the representatives dodged questions on the date of manufacture and delivery of the medicines, the methods of procurement, access to the reports of the DTL and CDTL on which the PPMA claims innocence, and why the reaction was found only in medicines at the PIC. The questions about media reports on expired licenses of the pharmaceutical companies were also not answered properly. The press conference ended abruptly – the full story of the PIC disaster is still some way away.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.