Blinded by neglect

By Editorial Board
September 27, 2023

If anyone wants to see the worth of human life in Pakistan, the latest report about an adulterated eye drug should be enough of a reality check. Close to 70 patients in Lahore, Kasur and Jhang districts in Punjab were administered Avastin injections to address the issue of retinal damage; the drug ended up causing severe infections among most of them and led to vision loss. The fact that so many people got blinded apparently due to a drug should ideally have led to extreme outrage and reaction. But, like other things, the healthcare sector and its flaws usually remain unheeded here – mainly because the victims of such a fractured system are less-influential people whose plight is forgotten as soon as the news dies down. What’s worse? Two years back, in 2021, eye operations in Multan led to vision loss in 11 out of 16 people. The procedures were carried out at a private hospital which put the blame for serious complications on postoperative infections. The authorities had at the time pushed the matter under the rug.

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Had the 2021 case – and other cases like it – been taken more seriously, tighter regulation would have been at least attempted to be implemented. But the government’s apathy towards its people is appalling. What it needs to do is take to task those responsible for the manufacture and distribution of unsafe drugs. So far, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab has announced free treatment for those affected and around 12 drug inspectors have been suspended, but we are yet to see if any action will be taken against the manufacturers and whoever was supposed to be regulating the making of the drug. Further, according to some reports, the injections were being repackaged in an unsterilized environment at a laboratory of a private hospital in Lahore. It is terrifying that such negligence flourishes and goes unchecked.

Incidents like these are also responsible for eroding trust among people, compelling them to rely on expensive drugs manufactured abroad. India also has a similar situation when it comes to not following international guidelines while manufacturing essential medicines. In December 2022, the World Health Organization found a dangerous link between Indian-made cough syrups and acute kidney failure cases in children in Gambia, leading to the deaths of at least 66 children. A few weeks back, an Indian pharmaceutical company recalled its antacid syrup due to safety concerns. Allowing profiteers to play with human lives is criminal, and governments that turn a blind eye to this grave injustice have victims’ blood on their hands. The matter deserves state attention. People’s lives are on the line; we hope that those who are responsible for this oversight will be held responsible for their criminal negligence.

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