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EDITORIAL: For the last several decades, manufacturing and marketing of fake/substandard drugs have gone on in this country in plain sight because of a weak enforcement mechanism.

Periodically-stated resolves by government officials to set things right have come to nothing. Various reports suggest 40-50 percent of the medicines circulating in this country, including the lifesaving ones, are a deadly cocktail of counterfeit drugs.

Last year, the then ministry of National Health Services put the figure as high as 85 percent – that though seems to be an exaggeration. In a recent development, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) has ordered the recall of nine cough syrups, produced by seven pharmaceutical companies, for containing high proportions of Propylene Glycol (PG), a prohibited substance.

Explaining what it can do to unsuspecting consumers, the Drap said PG, also known as ethylene glycol, metabolises into toxins that affect the nervous system, heart and also damage the kidneys, which can be fatal.

The menace is not restricted to the domestic market. This past December Pakistan found itself in an embarrassing situation when informed by the Maldives that some syrups imported from this country were laced with substances used in hydraulic brake fluids, stamp pad ink, paints, plastics and cosmetics.

That was not the first awkward moment of its kind. Over a decade ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued a safety alert after 125 people died from taking a contaminated drug, dispensed free of cost by a government-run hospital in Lahore. Later on it put out another alert about the products of a Lahore-based company.

Yet several ensuing drugs-related scandals have shown that such unscrupulous elements continue to pursue business as usual, causing grievous harm to public health and undermining genuine manufactures’ export prospects. It is too serious an issue to be allowed to fall by the wayside.

The Drap needs to strengthen its enforcement action. A starting point would be to delist the culprits involved in making the contaminated syrups, and make them pay damages to those affected by their misdeeds or wicked acts.

The regulatory authority also needs to undertake operational reforms, forming separate sections for registration of pharmaceutical companies and determining drug prices.

The former should focus on conducting regular inspections to ensure all in the business comply with internationally set standards. Towards that end, the government should provide Drap with adequate resources to acquire necessary tools and knowhow required for analysing counterfeiting and adulteration of drugs.

Furthermore, those in the field suggest bringing in technology used to create a digital record of all medicines’ authenticity, making it difficult for unprincipled and corrupt elements to replicate the same, and easier for the regulator to hold them to account. All concerned must do whatever it takes to protect and promote public health.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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KU Feb 05, 2024 11:50am
This menace is not limited to fake and substandard drugs, it plagues all commodities. The corrupt nature of our law enforcement encourages every crime and forgery under the sun.
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