ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court will commence from Tuesday hearing a suo motu petition about deaths of children, especially in rural areas, because of pneumonia and diarrhoea, and an alarming increase in the number of people suffering from Hepatitis C.
The matter came to the attention of Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali who on Nov 27, had ordered federal Secretary Health Ayub Sheikh and provincial health secretaries to come up with explanations why their governments had turned a blind eye to alarming health trends in the country.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Ejaz Afzal Khan, Qazi Faez Isa and Faisal Arab was formed which will take up the application of Sheraz Mehmood Qureshi, a resident of Mansehra, on Dec 22, inviting the attention of the court to the worrying state of affairs in the health sector.
Also read-editorial: Children’s health
The applicant had also submitted two columns that appeared in an Urdu newspaper — one written by Orya Maqbool Jan on Nov 13 and the other by Javed Chaudhry on Nov 19.
The chief justice ordered its office to convert the application into a suo motu petition on which notices be issued to the health secretaries of federal and provincial governments with a direction to submit comments on the contents of the columns.
Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects lungs whereas diarrhoea increases the frequency of bowel movements that result in the loss of body fluids because of looseness of stool. Hepatitis C causes severe infection affecting, primarily, liver.
Hepatitis C drug manufacturer
Apparently taking advantage of the suo motu case, a private pharmaceutical manufacturer ‘Everest Pharmaceuticals’ approached the apex court through a petition seeking permission to join the proceedings to expose alleged mala fide practice of other manufacturers and distributors of Hepatitis C medicines to the disadvantage of poor patients.
The manufacturer claimed that it had succeeded in manufacturing a drug for treatment of Hepatitis C which could be made available to the public at competitive price of Rs116 per tablet called Sovir (Sofosbuvir).
Currently, similar medicines by other manufacturers are being sold at the market for Rs1,178 per tablet, the petitioner claimed.
Filed by Advocate Khawaja Mohammad Farooq, the petition pleaded that the manufacturer had applied for the registration of the medicine with the Drug Registration Authority of Pakistan (Drap) in June last year but the authority delayed the registration of the drug which prompted the manufacturers to move the Lahore High Court and succeeded in getting a direction for the registration of the medicine within four weeks.
The petition, however, regretted that despite court direction Drap failed to register the drug and as a consequence a contempt application was also moved in the high court. In response, Drap conceded that the drug registration board after thorough deliberation had granted registration but a letter would be issued after fulfilment of codal formalities.
Subsequently, the manufacturer referred the drug to Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal, former chairman of Shaikh Zayed Hospital, Lahore; Prof Dr Aftab Mohsin, principal of Gujranwala Medical College and Dr Sanjiv Saigal, director of Transplant Hepatology, Gurgaon, Delhi; for clinical trials of the medicines.
These centres submitted in their reports that the drug had proved to be effective, the petition contended, but the registration authority had still not issued the registration certificate.
Moreover, attempts have been made to prevail upon the petitioner to prevent it from manufacturing and marketing the drug and the authorities appeared to be in league with distributors in a bid to benefit them, the petition alleged.
As a consequence, patients suffering with Hepatitis C are facing great hardship and have been forced to purchase costly drug form the market.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2015