LAHORE, March 25: The Punjab government placed on Monday an order for the procurement of ‘imported interferon’ injections at so far the lowest price of Rs69 per veil only for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C patients, it is learnt.

Initially, an estimated 579,710 veils of the life-saving drug would be purchased at a cost of Rs40 million, a senior official familiar with the development told Dawn. He said next week (in the second phase) the drug would be purchased at a cost of Rs160 million to cater to a large population of hepatitis C patients.

The Punjab government engaged eight companies for the drug purchase through tenders and short-listed two of them for the procurement at the lowest price so far, the official said.

The shot would be administered to deserving patients free of cost at the state-run health facilities, a step that would help save lives of hundreds of thousands of poor patients fighting the disease.

The companies will provide an interferon veil, a syringe and antibiotic medicine – Ribavrin – at the agreed price of Rs69.

He said a clinical trial of the drug was conducted by Prof Dr Arif Siddiqui at the Jinnah Hospital before finalising the procurement deal with the two companies.

At present, various generic variations of the interferon are available in the market at a price ranging between Rs300 to Rs6,000 including Alfa 2A, Alfa 2B Pegylated and Consensus interferon.

A majority of the poor patients even can’t buy the lowest-price drug available for Rs300 a vile in the market as the complete treatment period normally stretches to six months without interval.

“We have followed all the laid down procedures to ensure the quality of the imported drug at the lowest price and then hit this deal with the two companies”, Health Secretary Arif Nadeem told Dawn.

He said after getting the drug, the Punjab government would again engage National Institute of Health, Islamabad, for quality assurance.

He said the clinical and cost effectiveness of the drug was the prime focus of the Punjab government to minimise the risk of any mistake. He said both companies were well-reputed and their drugs were registered.

The secretary said before initiating the tender process for the drug procurement all the leading gastroenterologists, including Prof Aftab Mohsan of the Services Institute of Medical Sciences (SIMS) were taken on board.

The medical experts said unfortunately only five per cent of the total patients suffering from hepatitis C had been getting interferon-related treatment at the government hospitals of Punjab. The rest of the patients had either been left at the mercy of the quakes or the spiritual healers as majority of them belonged to poor segment of society.

An office-bearer of the Pakistan Society of Gastroenterology and GI Endoscopy and senior gastroenterologist of Lahore General Hospital, Dr Israrul Haq, told Dawn six to seven per cent of the country’s total population was suffering from hepatitis C and two to three per cent hepatitis B.

He said these alarming statistics were fresh and collected by the association from various government and private sector health facilities.

He said of every 100 hepatitis C patients 80 required interferon injections within 10 years of onset of the disease. In case of delay, the liver started getting damaged and interferon-related treatment proved ineffective, he warned.

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