Free medicine: Govt finally wakes up to mystery disease

As death toll mounts, CM forms inquiry committee.

Ali Usman January 23, 2012


A free drug provided by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) continued to claim innocent lives on Sunday, compelling Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to constitute a nine-member committee to conduct an inquiry into the incident.

Two more people died on Sunday due to a fatal reaction to the drug, raising the unofficial death toll to 25. However, the lack of coordination in various health facilities of the of Punjab health department was highlighted as the death toll could not be confirmed by hospital authorities.

Dr Javed Akram, principal of the Allama Iqbal Medical College and head of a committee probing the mysterious drug, told The Express Tribune that a patient passed away on Sunday at Mayo Hospital and the death toll had reached 25 in Lahore. But when contacted, Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Zahid Pervaiz, who has been recently appointed as Punjab Health Director-General, contradicted the statement.

“No patient has died in Mayo Hospital in the past 24 hours,” Pervaiz said, adding that special arrangements had been made to treat victims of the free drug.

“The contaminated medicine used by these patients contained arsenic, lead or mercury,” Akram told reporters.

While the death toll has already risen to 25, an increase in the death toll is expected. “There are still 105 such patients under treatment in different public hospitals in Lahore. Around 50 of them are in a critical condition,” Dr Akram said. Furthermore, all patients had been instructed to immediately discontinue use of the medicine attained from the PIC and 30% of the patients had already returned the medication, Dr Akram said.

In addition, a press briefing will be organised on Monday regarding the administering of the drug and what exactly went wrong, Dr Akram said, adding that Lahore appeared to be the worst-hit by the drugs’ fatal effects with around 90 to 95 of the under-treatment patients being Lahori residents.

“Around 25,000 patients attained these medicines but the problem seems to have occurred in one batch,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Sunday, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leader and former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi blamed the Punjab government for the incident. “My government had made hospitals for heart patients while the current government is killing these patients by giving them fake drugs,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, a spokesperson for Punjab government said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had constituted a nine-member committee led by chairman of the chief minister’s inspection team (CMIT) Najam Saeed to conduct an inquiry into the PIC incident, adding that the chief minister would be closely watching the situation whereas the committee will submit its report within two days.

CMIT, in its initial report, has already declared that the cause of the deaths is a reaction caused by the PIC medicines, manufactured by two pharmaceutical laboratories. These companies had obtained a licence from the federal government, the contents of the initial CMIT report revealed.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik also took notice of the unfortunate deaths caused by the drug and constituted a joint inquiry team headed by Director Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Punjab, FIA officials told The Express Tribune.

The team is to prepare a report within three days and submit it to the interior ministry with an identification of cause, recommendations to avert such incidents in the future and initiation of legal actions against all those responsible, sources in the FIA said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2012.


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Amjad | 9 years ago | Reply

@Ali: I think you don't know that the administration running the Cardiology Institute isn't the provincial government any more than some of the medicines which were sourced from Karachi had the Sind provincial government there sitting on the company board. What is needed is a full and thorough inquiry which is under way. When the culprits and cause is found, it must be dealt with. This would prevent such tragedies happening again. In the US, whenever a medicine is found to be causing unexpected death or morbidity, it is removed from the market and investigations are done. The same should happen in Pakistan.

Anoni | 9 years ago | Reply

Do we have any accountability ? I am 100% sure that it will be blamed on some process error and no one will stand accountable.

People's life should be valued. May we make a better Pakistan from now on

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