The provincial Drug Testing Laboratory (DTL) on Friday confirmed that it received samples of two medicines suspected to have caused the deaths of hundreds in Punjab from the office of the chief drug inspector of Sindh for analysis. These drugs included Soloprin of Megawise Pharma and Atenolol of Zafa Pharmaceutical.
Sindh DTL Director Shuja-ur-Rehman told The News that samples of both the drugs were collected by provincial drug inspectors from the market and pharmaceutical companies. He added that the lab would analyse the medicines on a priority basis.
He said the Drug Act gives 60 days’ time to the DTL for testing a medicine, but since this was a matter of priority, they would postpone all routine activities. In addition to the death of over 100 people in Punjab, these drugs are also suspected to have caused adverse reactions among patients, for which scores were still being treated.
The DTL director claimed that drug testing labs of pharmaceutical companies in Karachi and the rest of the province were better than those in Punjab. He added that they were very strict in keeping the quality of their medicines up to international standards.
He believed that deaths caused by the suspected drugs in Punjab were actually caused by the prescription as doctors prescribed high doses of cholesterol-lowering drugs to heart patients and this was responsible for the fatal reactions. However, he acknowledged that the actual reason could only be determined once the drugs had been analysed and autopsies carried on the deceased.
On the other hand, there was no change in the electricity supply situation at the lab. Power was disconnected a couple of months ago due to the non-payment of dues to the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and officials were relying on a small generator to power their equipment.
Staff of the DTL admitted that since directions had been given to analyse these medicines on a priority basis, they were planning to acquire an illegal electricity connection (Kunda) to complete the task.
They said that public offices situated close to the STL, whose electricity was also severed due to the non-payment of dues, were getting power through illegal connections and the DTL staff also decided to “avail the facility”.
At the same time, provincial health department officials were not satisfied with the procedure adopted for the import of raw material used in medicine, its quality control as well as its handling and storage at the Karachi port.
They said raw material used in medicine was imported from India and China by local and multinational pharmaceutical companies. Pakistan has no naphtha cracker facility, where raw material for the preparation of allopathic medicines is made.
“The raw material for medicines is brought on ships at the Karachi port and is handled like other merchandise such as scrap at the port. The raw material is kept in open places until it is cleared by port authorities and customs, which takes weeks and sometimes months,” an official claimed.
They said raw material used by the local pharmaceutical companies was often purchased from local suppliers, who imported or got it smuggled into the country, but there was no system for monitoring or testing by provincial or federal drug control authorities.
“There is an absolute need to streamline the entire process of medicine manufacturing in Pakistan from the import of its raw material to manufacturing at pharmaceutical companies. This includes the packing and labeling of the medicines,” an official of the health department said.
Similarly, registration, approval, pricing and related issues of medicines was still with the federal government despite the adoption of the 19th Constitutional Amendment, under which health had become a provincial subject, he maintained.
The official said the health department needed to conduct a complete review of medicine manufacturing in the province, its marketing and availability strictly on prescription. He added that life-saving drugs needed to be paid special attention to so that incidents like the deaths in Punjab could be averted.