HYDERABAD: Two of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s (PAEC) oncology hospitals in Karachi and Jamshoro have recommended the Sindh High Court (SHC) order a ban on the manufacturing and sale of mainpuri and gutka.
The Atomic Energy Medical Centre (AEMC), Karachi, and Nuclear Institute of Medicine and Radiotherapy (NIMRA), Jamshoro, in their reports submitted on Friday in the Sindh High Court (SHC), said that these substances are causing oral cancer.
There is a positive history of taking betel nuts, gutka, mainpuri, pan parag, chewing tobacco and other substitutes of paan among 90% of these patients,” stated the report submitted by Dr Aslam Jamali of NIMRA.
The hospital in Jamshoro registered a total of 15,900 cancer cases from January, 2008 to December, 2014. According to the report, around 28% of these cases, 4,428, pertained to oral cancer. Similarly, the AEMC registered 1,025 cases from 2014 to 2017, including cancers of oral cavity, tongue, floor of mouth, palate, lip and other ill-defined sites in the lip. Gutka, mainpuri and paan were traced as the cause of some 925 or 90% of these carcinoma cases.
“Oral cancer in Pakistan, especially in Karachi, is the second-most common cancer. The frequency of this cancer in the world is ranked at eighth,” observed PAEC Director Muhammad Ali Memon, in the report. He also pointed towards the same substances as the major reason for this fatal health condition.
“This is one of the many preventable cancers and by controlling these products we can prevent 40% of cancer prevalence in our community, especially oral cavity cancer,” he said.
NIMRA, which provides free or subsidised treatment to patients, pointed out in the report that most of the patients are registered for treatment at an advanced stage of cancer. “Complete remission is not possible and all our efforts and financial support different departments [Zakat funds, Pakistan Baitul Maal and Cancer Patients Welfare Society] goes in vain.”
The report suggested that if the government can help reduce the number of cases of oral cancer by banning and stopping consumption of these substances, the funds can be better utilised to save the lives of patients with curable malignancies.
The bench, comprising Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Fahim Ahmed Siddiqi, which heard the case, expressed dismay over the absence of any official from the law department. At the last hearing on September 11, the court ordered the law secretary or his representative to inform the court about any existing or planned legislation with regard to these substances.
The bench directed Additional Advocate-General Allah Bachayo Soomro to ensure the presence of a law official at the next hearing on September 28. The court appointed senior Advocate Jhamat Jethananad as amicus curiae for the next hearing. The court has suggested legislating a law which not only restricts the illegal trade but also provides punishment for the offenders, as traders so far have been taking advantages of loopholes in the existing food law.
During the previous hearings on September 11, August 28 and August 18, the bench had ordered the Sindh inspector-general of police to launch a province-wide crackdown against this illegal trade.
However, during the last hearing, the district and sessions judges complained in their reports of police inaction. The SHC had also ordered the judicial magistrate to raid the outlets selling such hazardous items.
In the compliance report submitted by the local government secretary, the SHC was informed that all the municipal councils in Sindh have been directed to take action under their own laws and under the Pure Food Ordinance, 1960 against these businesses.