As the death toll rises, some organisations are cooperating to get to the heart of the matter. Others are acting more secretively.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the police have agreed to share information, after a meeting held at the FIA Punjab office on Monday. However, the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), the drug testing laboratory (DTL) and the provincial and district health departments have so far failed to provide relevant records to the FIA, as the probe continues into the free medicines which have so far cost over 100 lives.
The FIA has decided to go to court if the chairman of the chief minister’s inspection team does not provide the necessary information. According to extracts, the FIA report, submitted before the Lahore High Court (LHC), stated that despite reminders, the heads of the PIC and DTL and also the health secretary have not complied. A proper investigation can only be carried out if this information regarding the pharmaceutical procedures is obtained.
The Director FIA Islamabad as well as the Director Administration FIA Headquarters on Monday visited the FIA Punjab office to review the progress of the joint investigation team.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has compiled a one-page questionnaire to find out exactly what happened from patients. The questions relate to the current state of patients and the names of medicines used.
There are also reports from sources in the FIA that all three companies suspected of supplying hazardous medicines did not purchase some raw materials from licensed chemical sellers.
LHC wants answers
On the request of the Punjab government, Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Azmat Saeed on Monday formed a one-member judicial commission to probe the PIC incident. Justice Ijaz ul Hasan has been named as head of the commission. The commission will be authorised to ascertain the cause of death and decide who was responsible. It will also provide recommendations for stopping such incidents in the future.
The LHC also directed the Punjab government to inform the court about the steps taken for the rehabilitation of patients. The additional secretary health told the court that 89 deaths due to the reaction of medicines had been confirmed so far and more were being verified. He said 368 out of 779 patients affected by the spurious medicines were still under treatment at the institute while others had been discharged after satisfaction of the doctors.
The FIA director told the court that owners of three pharmaceutical companies were in the agency’s custody and investigations were under way.
Punjab govt suspends officials
The Punjab government is trying to save its skin, it seems, by transferring and suspending officials. This, at least, is what health department officials believe.
On Monday, the Punjab Government approved the one-month leave of Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan, the health secretary. The detained medical superintendent of PIC, Dr Jaffar Saleem, was also freed on Monday while the Director General Health Dr Aslam Chaudhary has also been suspended.
Separately, the Pakistan Medical Association held a press conference at PMA House in which they said that the lapse in the quality control was the main reason for the deaths of the patients who died of PIC medicines. The office bearers said that the government’s policy of purchasing the medicine at the lowest rates and of the lowest quality was the main reason for the crisis.
(With additional reporting by Rana Tanveer and Ali Usman)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2012.