PIC free medicine: As deaths soar past 80, authorities still clueless

Published: January 25, 2012
Heart patients and their family members queue for their prescription medication from a pharmacy at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

Heart patients and their family members queue for their prescription medication from a pharmacy at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP


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.

(Read: Of substandard drugs)

With additional reporting by Rameez Khan, Asad Kharal and Rana Tanveer in Lahore.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • Kashif Iqbal
    Jan 25, 2012 - 4:33AM

    Punish the culprits and make it an exemplary case. How could these monsters play with the lives of poor people.


  • Patriotic
    Jan 25, 2012 - 5:24AM

    ah Pakistan… :(


  • A. Khan
    Jan 25, 2012 - 6:16AM

    The “free” medicines were part of a drug trial being conducted most likely illegally but certainly without the patient’s knowledge. The management of PIC should be interrogated to name and shame which multinational was behind this and make them pay restitution.


  • Rafi
    Jan 25, 2012 - 6:22AM

    Its funny how the media has not reported that all these pharma companies source their raw materials from China.


  • sunny
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:50AM

    Right. And media also not digged the background of the concerned pharma company like who is the owner, which principle of standars it follows and quality of their workers etc etc. Perhaps it involves ads…….


  • faraz
    Jan 25, 2012 - 8:19AM

    Ban the 3 pharmaceutical companies, and put their owners in jail


  • NB73
    Jan 25, 2012 - 8:56AM

    @Rafi Its China and/or India


  • Faisal Jay
    Jan 25, 2012 - 8:58AM

    Dont want to speculate but this looks like “Radioactive Poisoning” to me.


  • BS.Detecter
    Jan 25, 2012 - 8:59AM

    If the drugs were faulty, then patients from other hospitals would be affected too.
    but lets not rule out any possibility yet. Maybe entire batch of drugs provided to PIC is substandard


  • insight
    Jan 25, 2012 - 9:17AM

    Oh God ! families have been destroyed here. what worth is 5 lac ? Can it bring those people back ? No . Why no severe action still? Where is so called khadim e ala ? He should resign immediately . He is better off in Saudia Arabia. Go back there Mr.


  • Ramzan Ali
    Jan 25, 2012 - 9:37AM

    The Culprits should be hanged till death…………… No trial no case Just simply HANG TO DEATH……………

    The Govt. is not even thinking for any actionRecommend

  • Saqib
    Jan 25, 2012 - 9:37AM

    May ALLAH’s wrath fall upon those who have caused a loss of 80 precious lives……….


  • John B
    Jan 25, 2012 - 10:27AM

    How long would it take for the PAK scientists to run the samples of the drugs in Atomic mass spectroscopy or gas chromatography to get the chemical signature of the ingredients?

    Something is very fishy why the investigation is taking more than a day to arrive at the chemical composition.


  • pervaiz memon
    Jan 25, 2012 - 1:09PM

    That why i am against free things . when Government or other NGO offer any thing free it means that they lower the quality and no appropriate system of check and balance .we must see all the free hospitals and schools around us . Only example Adib Rizvy of SIUT maintain quality for no money .


  • Aizad Sayid
    Jan 25, 2012 - 3:12PM

    The killing fields of Pakistan’s hospital wards.


  • sara
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:37PM

    I a pretty appalled that ppl have already jumped to conclusions about who the culprits are and who’ve started bashing the government without any proof. This isn’t the first time such a horrible incident has taken place and surely won’t be the last. Back in the 80’s , there were several deaths in the USA due to tainted batches of the pain medicine ‘Tylenol’. After thorough investigation, it was determined that someone had poisoned the medicine after the medicine had been shipped out (jealous competitor? disgruntled ex employee?). Although no one was ever caught, it lead to the creation of tamper proof medication bottles. If someone attempts to open the medication bottles, the seal breaks and you can clearly see that the bottle was opened. We need similar bottles in Pakistan, so such unfortunate incidents can be avoided in the future. I pray for the victims and seriously hope that the culprits are caught and brought to justice! stop pointing fingers ppl and start discussing solutions


  • sara
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:39PM

    @Aizad Sayid: I am not sure what purpose your comment served? you aren’t providing any constructive feedback or suggestions. This is certainly not the time and place for sarcastic comments. Recommend

  • dr.innocent angel
    Jan 25, 2012 - 9:38PM

    it can be a radioactive poisoning case and its also possible that some 1 has poisoned them or there is a change in the normal n usual chemical composition of drugs … Remember whenever we take a drug our natural system is disturbed by taking that drug its drug-body interaction. our platelet level decreases by taking the drugs like aspirin which is widely recommended for cardiac patients but normally body overcomes it . its possible that those drugs contain those chemical agents in a large quantities that caused allergies. it will b clear after the sample testing that who is the real culprit n he must b punished .


  • Shahbaz Khan
    Jan 25, 2012 - 10:33PM

    Medicines (drug formulations) consist of 2 parts: the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) and the inactive ingredients (excipients). For example, Brufen has 200mg of Ibuprofen (API) but the bulk of the tablet is made up of the excipients or binders in fixed concentrations. The entire process of buying raw material, manufacturing drug and releasing it to the market is governed by international standards called Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) which are legally binding. Drug manufacturers are required by law to purchase all ingredients (all raw material not only the API) from approved facilities and of certain specifications. If there is GMP violation, the chances of using a contaminated ingredient are increased. Punjab government’s laboratory has declared that the active ingredients for all of these medicines have been checked and have been found to be alright. In this case, it is likely that at least a single inactive ingredient, common to all of these formulations, is either contaminated or substandard, and these local manufacturers probably bought the same contaminated batch of that ingredient when they manufactured these batches. However, a complicating factor is the fact that only medicines dispensed from the PIC have been found to have issues. This can only be explained if the manufacturers made exclusive batches for PIC and did not release any medicines from these batches in the open market. If FIA tracks down the sourcing of the raw material, including the inactive ingredients, for all of these batches, they might be able to identify the problem.


  • Sannan
    Jan 26, 2012 - 4:01PM

    why media is not publishing the names of the medicines so people may become aware about this….


  • U.S
    Feb 6, 2012 - 8:23PM

    My question would be when there is no record of receiving that batch and when the company has a different batch No supplied to the hospital how can Punjab Government send a non-registered batch for testing and seal the company on this basis.
    Efroze Pharma has a clean record for the past 35 years, I as a user of their medicine know that their products of the highest quality and standard.

    The fact that its a huge conspiracy against the firm may InshALLAH come in front of the public soon but the thing which is most upsetting is that the people of our country form opinions about things without even knowing anything. The comments above about the company being shut and Mr. Abdullah Feroz be punished. On what basis have you formed the opinion and who gives you the right to pass judgements without knowing any history about the company or the people owning it!
    The first free of cost BURNS hospital for the poor runs under the presidentship of Mr. Abdullah Feroz, so the millions of dollars you are assuming are in his bank account actually go to the poor. The least we can do for such great people is pray for them!
    The media should be responsible and rather than trying to earn money over every news, The news must first be confirmed! Also, they should show what the later investigations are showing in favor of the company as a BREAKING NEWS because if people have the right to know, they have the right to know everything!


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