Patients who had consumed pills doled out by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, the premier heart facility in the province, continue to die like flies. Contradicting his own health department, which put the toll at 72, the Punjab chief minister said on a visit to PIC that 100 people have died. He has set up yet another commission, the eighth so far, to look into the matter. None of these bodies have given in results, as yet. Meanwhile, the PPP has demanded a case against Shahbaz Sharif, as news comes in that a company which had lost its licence had been supplying medicines to the PIC.
The massive 22-member commission set up by the chief minister, headed by Dr Javed Akram, who is the principal of the Allama Iqbal Medical College, believes that the death toll could further increase as people continue to suffer the mysterious ill-effects of the tablets which they took as a part of free treatment for their cardiac condition. Hospitals in other places have warned patients to discontinue the medications. Three pharmaceutical companies, headquartered in Karachi, are under investigation, with the FIA reportedly set to arrest their owners. Medical experts say the pills — or some of them — created bone marrow suppression or aplastic anaemia. This is in itself a mystery as none of the listed ingredients would be expected to have this effect.
Certainly, those responsible need to be held accountable, but we also need a wider examination of the process of manufacturing and testing the safety of medicines in the country. We already know many of those sold lack quality; some entirely spurious compounds are put together in backstreet labs. A system needs to be put in place to stop this, while Punjab also needs to review the working of its health ministry, given the dengue debacle suffered last year, followed now by a new series of deaths, the health ministries confidence that it can help cure the ailments patient suffer because of its reputation and standing, is ill-founded.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2012.
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