Free medicine case: Punjab govt caught unaware?

Parliamentary health secretary admits until three weeks, govt did not know of patient deaths.

Abdul Manan January 26, 2012

LAHORE: Members of the opposition in Punjab Assembly were unimpressed on Thursday as the parliamentary health secretary briefed them on the free medicine case, which has so far killed over 100 people.

“The Punjab Institute of Cardiology caters to as many as 600,000 people annually. Of these, 50,000 people are registered for free medicines for various cardiac diseases,” Dr Saeed Elahi, parliamentary health secretary, said. “The substandard medicines were distributed to 28,000 patients and 450 of them were affected. One hundred patients have died while 222 are undergoing treatment and 22 of them are in critical condition. However, those in serious condition are not responding to medicines.”

Dr Elahi said that the PIC keeps data of the eight divisions of Punjab that it supplies to, according to which 75% of affected patients are from Lahore. He said that PIC staff will also be interrogated by the chairman of the chief minister’s inspection team.

Explaining the procurement process at the PIC, he said that the institute purchases medicines from the company which bid the lowest rate. The medicines were distributed on December 15, 2011, and up till the first week of January, the government was unaware of the deaths caused by drug reactions.

“It was in the first week when patients thronged hospitals, complaining of bleeding from various areas of the body. A preliminary investigation revealed that almost all patients were using cardiac medicines issued by the PIC in December,” he said.

Further investigation showed that these patients suffered bone marrow suppression, which led to a low blood count and severe bleeding. “Alarmed by the situation, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif constituted various probe committees, which found that most patients were using one or more of the following five medicines: Cardiovastation, Concont, Isotab, Solprin and Atenolol,” Dr Elahi said.

Government response

Elahi said that the government had constituted eight committees to deal with the issue and sought to assure the house that the government had devised a multipronged strategy to counter the problem at the initial stage.

Detailing government response, he said that the first response was to provide free medical care to affected patients at all teaching hospitals. Separate counters have been established at these hospitals’ emergency departments. Simultaneously, he said, suspected drugs are being collected from patients through the local administration, health authorities and police. Drug inspectors are retrieving medicines from markets, he said.

Secondly, he said, samples of suspected drugs have been sent for analysis and investigation to domestic and foreign laboratories. In Pakistan, samples have been sent to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, while one man has gone to a lab in London and is expecting a report in 48 hours. Samples have also been dispatched to labs in Belgium and the US.

He said that hospitals have been issued clinical management guidelines for treating these patients and senior professors have been deputed to monitor their implementation.

About legal action, he said that an FIR, under Section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code, has been lodged at the Shadman Police Station and a team of prosecution, law, health and police officials is investigating the case.

Talking about compensation, he said that the provincial government has announced compensation of Rs0.5 million to the heirs of those who died and Rs200,000 for patients still in hospitals. Rs30,000 have so far been disbursed to admitted patients, he said.

Opposition response

MPA Javed Gujjar, from the Pakistan Peoples Party, said that responsibility lies with those factories which manufacture the medicine, not the five companies that only produce a component of the drugs. He said that the issue should be taken up by the federal government as foreign companies had sent the ingredients to local companies which mixed them.

MPA Mohsin Leghari, from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, criticised the PIC’s purchasing mechanism and said that the companies had sold medicines across the country hence drugs should not just be retrieved from the PIC.

PML-N MPA Asghar Monda demanded that an FIR be lodged under Section 302 instead of 322, as the latter allows payment of a Diyat.

Responding to the criticism, Dr Elahi said that the federal government has issued licenses to some companies, which import raw materials from China and Dubai and 15 committee members are analysing this raw material. He said that the federal government specifies the prices of medicines.

The session was then adjourned till Friday.


Shahid | 9 years ago | Reply

This is so tragic. This is tantamount to distributing poison to fellow human beings. I think the drug manufacturers, laboratories involved and the people at PIC responsible for distributing this poison need to be prosecuted and severely punished. I don’t know what kind of drug safety protocol is practiced in Pakistan. That needs to be revisited. Political jokers should stay out of this.

Amjad | 9 years ago | Reply

It is clear that on both a federal and provincial level, additional safeguards are needed to prevent the use of substandard medicines and poor prescribing practices by Pakistani doctors. The Federal government has to ensure that the import quality of raw materials is adequate. In the USA the FDA does this task and is headquartered at the capital.

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