EDITORIAL: What has happened in Punjab is beyond shocking. Several diabetes patients seeking treatment for retinal atrophy have been injected with contaminated version of a drug, Avastin, resulting in loss of vision.
It turns that taking advantage of high prices of medicine due to steep rupee depreciation, some unscrupulous distributors had been selling Avastin, manufactured by the reputable Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche, repackaging it in small doses and sell on cheap rates.
True to their norm, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), along with provincial health authorities, has spurred into action after the event and formed a high level committee to investigate the sale of “altered/dispensed/diluted” form of Avastin injection.
Suspected batches of the drug have been recalled and further distribution stopped till verification of its quality through sampling and laboratory testing.
Meanwhile, Roche has issued a statement, saying the drug in question is approved by regulatory authorities in as many as 130 countries, including the US, for treatment of various types of cancer, assuring the local health authorities of its cooperation to protect patients from counterfeits. The statement also points out that “Avastin is not approved for any use in the eye.”
It is imperative therefore to investigate as to why it was allowed to be used for eye treatment. Now that the matter is under public scrutiny, in an apparent bid to cover up its own adequacies the DRAP has claimed that in the cases concerned Avastin was used off-label, thereby suggesting that it was applied for eye conditions without its approval. In that event, the provincial health department has to answer for overlooking the misuse.
The sad reality though is that fake/counterfeit drugs, including life-saving ones, are freely produced and sold in plain sight of drug inspectors. Some black sheep among the medical practitioners are not without blame, either.
There is the example of surgeon(s) at a major Lahore hospital caught recommending a certain substandard stent for heart patients. In another instance, several patients died after consuming a cost-free contaminated medicine obtained from a government cardiology hospital in the city.
Following the latest wrongdoing, the health authorities have suspended 12 drug inspectors and deputy drug controllers for negligence.
This is not enough. It is about time governments in Punjab and other provinces took serious action against all manufacturers and marketers of spurious/counterfeit drugs. All involved in this criminal enterprise ought to be handed exemplary punishment.
The least the health authorities owe to the people is a result-oriented crackdown on remorseless elements posing health risks to unsuspecting consumers. Regarding the present case, the government must do all that is necessary to provide the victims of unforgivable malefactors with any available corrective treatment.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023