Free medicine disaster: Lab with expired licence supplied PIC

Published: January 26, 2012
The panic will take some time to subside, as it has emerged that 400-500 patients were given the same medicine at the hospital.

The panic will take some time to subside, as it has emerged that 400-500 patients were given the same medicine at the hospital.


As the death toll of those who took free medicine from the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) crosses 100, the story – perhaps inevitably – has moved into the realm of the corrupt and sinister.

It has emerged that the licence of one of the three pharmaceutics laboratories that supplied the apparently contaminated drugs to the PIC expired in April 2011. The company continued to manufacture the medicines in bulk and even supplied them in the open market in addition to governmental hospitals.

The licence of Alfalah Pharma (Pvt) Limited expired seven months ago – but provincial drug inspectors were totally ignorant of this fact, according to sources. The factory has now been sealed by authorities.

The facts were uncovered by federal drugs inspectors as well as officials from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and raise uneasy questions about the workings of regulatory authorities.

Meanwhile, the PIC is yet to provide relevant records to the joint investigation team, despite several reminders.

The FIA continues to probe the matter. On Wednesday it sent a sample of the tablet Solprin, manufactured by Pharmawise Laboratories (Pvt) Ltd, to the Central Drug Laboratory in Karachi for analysis. The FIA also sent letters to the provincial secretary of health as well as other officials to find out the exact death toll.

The investigating team has also examined records relating to stock, supply and manufacturing of the companies who made the drugs.

The situation is only worsening, however, as the Punjab government on Wednesday withdrew a batch of 200,000 aspirin tablets from the PIC after they were found to be contaminated.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr Saeed Elahi, confirmed the story to The Express Tribune and called for an immediate withdrawal of the drug from the hospital’s dispensary.

The batch was dispatched to PIC’s dispensary from December 16 to January 12. Elahi also said that the government had ordered an investigation to find out why the medicine was contaminated.

After the PIC’s free heart medicine fiasco, another spate of panic might start, as there is a chance that tablets from this batch might have been sent to other pharmacies in the city.

The panic will take some time to subside, as it has emerged that 400-500 patients were given the same medicine at the hospital.

The medicine triggered an unknown disease that is said to get deposited in the bone marrow and ultimately ends the body’s resistance. The generation of white blood cells stops in the body and a severe chest infection also takes place.

The Punjab government has tried to calm anger, and distributed compensation cheques on Wednesday to the relatives of those who died after taking the PIC drugs.

This was not enough for the leader of the opposition in the province, Raja Riaz, who said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is ultimately in charge of the health ministry, is responsible for the casualties.

Riaz said that it was the function of health minister to overlook the performance of his department, but unfortunately the obstinate CM has not learnt the lesson after about 800 people died of dengue last year.

He said that Sharif has been too ashamed to come to the Punjab Assembly and urged him to explain him actions in person.

Riaz had earlier told the media that the PPP is considering asking relatives of those who have died to lodge an FIR against Sharif and the negligence of his departments. He also demanded that the chief justice of Pakistan take suo moto notice on the PIC incident. 

(Read: Distributing death)

(With additional input from Mohammad Rizwan & Abdul Manan)

Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • Tahir
    Jan 26, 2012 - 5:40AM

    As health minister of Punjab (and 21 other ministries) Shahbaz Sharif is directly responsible and should resign for his incompetence.


  • PTIrevolution
    Jan 26, 2012 - 5:44AM

    PPP and PMLN don’t know the definiton of governance.


  • Mubashir
    Jan 26, 2012 - 5:59AM

    A truly unfortunate incident and look what our leaders are up-to..! They are making use of this opportunity to score some points!

    What a shame.. we have beaten ourselves at moral degradation, with utter disregard for humanity and the sanctity and value of human life..


  • A. Khan
    Jan 26, 2012 - 6:15AM

    Why is drug administration a provincial subject ? If anything, the Federal Government should be considered the culprit here.


  • HoneyBee
    Jan 26, 2012 - 8:09AM

    WHERE IS PCO SC sou motto . . .???


  • Jan 26, 2012 - 9:09AM

    nothing will be done against punjab health minister punjab ( C.M punjab) – he can get away as these are above the LAW!


  • Jan 26, 2012 - 10:08AM

    Kindly tell me, Is Shahbaz Shareif blamed Federal govt/Establishment on this or not?


  • Jan 26, 2012 - 10:21AM

    There has always been issues with pharmas based in Lahore. Many Karachi-based pharmacies avoid purchasing from Lahore or Punjab based pharma companies. And this cause, along with dengue fraud case, proves that the rot it very big out there.


  • Truth_Prevails
    Jan 26, 2012 - 11:00AM

    Sad very sad. On top, political scoremaking is another unfortunate reality of out society. Until recent deaths, 600,000 patients were benefiting annually from this facility without any media attention. Can we sometimes have ‘good news’ as part of our news?


  • Rashid
    Jan 26, 2012 - 12:07PM

    Surely, this is a sad incident, and an outcome of bad governance, and height of irresponsibility, coupled with high-scale corruption. However, I have one question. Doesn’t the supply, and check for authentication for medical drugs come under the Federal Government even after 18th amercement? If yes, then how is Shahbaz Sharif directly responsible for this incident?


  • Ayesha
    Jan 26, 2012 - 1:15PM

    After 18 amendment (item #20 on concurrent list ‘Drugs and Medicines’), regulation of food and drug is now a provincial subject. However, in all other federations of the world, drug and food regulation is a federal subject because they can move freely from one federating unit to another. The US FDA is a fine example of a central agency that strictly monitors food and drug quality. The EU also has a central food/drug regulatory agency as Brussels is responsible for ‘consumer protection’ in the EU free market.


  • BS.Detecter
    Jan 26, 2012 - 1:20PM

    Alfalah pharma should be charged with murder


  • Jan 26, 2012 - 1:27PM

    Call me names but i still cant stop thinking…this is not rotten meat to kill so badly…what about that dengue medicines from India…r they still in use…wat is their composition and safety…r the Indians really so kind as they were made out to be….dunno but y do i smell a rat in this whole medicine saga….a rat from across the border


  • Naseem Islam
    Jan 26, 2012 - 1:55PM

    At this stage it would be helpful to know what measures are in place to ensure quality control of medicines manufactured. How are these undermined. Instead of point scoring this is the time to bring out the whole system in the open and learn lessons.


  • Jan 26, 2012 - 2:26PM

    some of un-registered drugests are also cut the side of packing where companies put medicine expiry date, Health ministory should care about and make a section who visit whole year, whole paksitan for these kind of problems on stores and other places where medicen points are..


  • Sajjad Hussain
    Jan 26, 2012 - 3:29PM

    This incident justiifies that doctors apprehensions that our local pharma industry is not well regulated and spurious drugs are being manufactured playing with the lives of poor patients.Therefore doctors prescribing costly medicines manufactured by multinational companies is understandable.The pharma companies manufacturing spurious drugs responsible for the death of these poor heart patients must not only be punished but made to pay compensations to next of kin of these murdered patients. Besides the drug inspectors, doctors procuring these drugs for their hospitals, concern govt. officials and Punjab health ministry are also responsible and accountable.


  • Born Political
    Jan 26, 2012 - 4:18PM

    No doubt this is high level of incompetency by Punjab govt, but when we will stop criticizing rulers and look to clean our houses first. What about these pharmas and people working there, should they be called humans? Corruption is so deep rooted in our society and by putting every blame on rulers, we are not doing any good.


  • farhan
    Jan 26, 2012 - 5:52PM

    For all those Punjab Govt haters the import of medicines and it’s manufacturing in Pakistan is under the jurisdiction of Federal govt. Punjab Govt is distributing FREE medicines to the poor people for the last 3 years. It is very unfortunate that the youth is so jaahil that they start pointing fingers without knowing much. God help Pakistan !!!


  • salim
    Jan 26, 2012 - 5:53PM

    Crimnal negligence! Suo Moto – don’t even think of it!


  • Saad Durrani
    Jan 26, 2012 - 10:13PM

    The tablet is called Soloprin, not Solprin.


  • Zunaira
    Feb 9, 2012 - 1:40AM

    Nothing new……would someone bother to check the medicine quality around Mayo Hospital or we are dead dumb senseless people just waiting for a disaster to happen and then reading headlines..nodding head in sorrows and finally forgetting whole dilemma….by thinking “SANU KEEE LAGAY” …..I have been a house officer/ medical resident and witness of nill effects of fake medicine bought from pharmacies around Mayo Hospital…PS: this al take place under the nose and supervisions of hospital’s Medical superintendents…..what a pity”..yup I posted comment too..well SANU ki laggay…


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