As more patients continue to die after consuming medicines given out by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, things have been prevented from growing more chaotic as a strike by the Young Doctor’s Association (YDA) was called off, following successful talks with the Punjab Health Department. The doctors has struck after the Medical Superintendant (MS) of the concerned cardiac centre, was suspended and later arrested by the FIA — on the orders of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and ended their protest after he was released . The protest would, of course, have meant more misery for patients who are in no way responsible for the crisis or the events that brought it about, with the death toll now standing at 112.
The YDA holds, with some logic, that the Punjab government— and not hospital heads — are responsible for ensuring the quality of medicines manufactured and provided to health institutes. The Pakistan Medical Association had also demanded the release of the arrested MS and threatened to call a countrywide strike if this did not happen. Successful talks have averted catastrophe; this obviously is good news. But it does not change the fact that what has happened is terrible. The deaths should never have occurred. But suspending or jailing doctors will not help, especially as there is no evidence of foul play on their part. As the testing of suspect drugs continues, there appears to be some doubt over the control of drug manufacturing following the devolution of health to the provinces. The prime minister has said that unlike the other three provinces, Punjab has declined to set up a drug control authority of its own. This matter needs to be looked into. We also wonder if the holding of multiple portfolios by the provincial chief minister, including health, is affecting performance. There is, after all, a limit to how much one man can do. Rather than making arrests, it is these issues that need to be explored, to ensure that a tragedy of this kind, or the events that have followed it, never occur again.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.