ISLAMABAD: Spurning allegations that locally-produced diagnostic kits used by hospitals could lead to cancer, the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has contended that the laboratory which manufactures these kits meets all international standards and specifications.

In a rejoinder submitted before the Supreme Court, the PAEC explained that hospitals under the commission, as well as the government and private hospitals that use diagnostic injections produced by the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (Pinstech), were regulated by the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) and the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap).

The reply was submitted by PAEC through its counsel, Ahmer Bilal Soofi, in response to allegations levelled by scientist Mohammad Riaz Pasha, drawing the court’s attention towards the alleged supply of contaminated diagnostic injections to hospitals.

The Supreme Court had ordered the federal government and the PAEC chairman on Feb 2 to submit rejoinders to Mr Pasha’s allegations that the injections administered to patients since 2011 contained “undesirable levels of radiation”.

He had alleged that the injections contaminated with undesirable radionuclides such as Molybdenum-99, Stro­n­tium-90 and Ruthenium-103, were produced by the fission of highly-enriched uranium in Pinstech’s nuclear reactor. These irradiated the sensitive blood-producing bone marrow and could cause leukaemia and other malignant diseases of the blood, he claimed.

In its reply, the PAEC explained that Pinstech was licensed by the PNRA to use radio-pharmaceuticals and that every hospital also conducted its own mandatory tests to verify the product before injecting any patient.

The PAEC in reply claimed that since 2012, when the product was first manufactured and supplied, no complaint has ever been lodged by any hospital. However, the reply did not mention anything about the previous year, 2011, which is when Mr Pasha alleges the irregularities took place.

The PAEC report explained that the laboratories at Pinstech were ISO-9001:2008 certified and that the diagnostic injections produced by them were used in hospitals throughout Pakistan, including the 18 nuclear medical centres under the commission’s control.

The PAEC reply also tries to discredit Mr Pasha, saying that he was “associated with the quality control group at Pinstech for a very short period of time, wherein he never reported about any wrongdoing to the higher authorities... regarding the manufacturing of the diagnostic injections”.

But it also goes on to say, “The petitioner was never involved in the production or coordinating activity of Mo99m generators nor was he involved in the quality control analysis of the product.”

In another section, however, the response adopts a different tack, saying, “the petitioner himself was part of the quality control department of the same injections. He only raised [the] issue after opting for retirement voluntarily” and goes on to question his motives.

The reply noted that Pasha joined the commission as an assistant scientific officer on Feb 7, 1988 and applied for voluntary retirement after the completion of 25 years of service, which was approved by the competent authority effective July 2, 2013. During this period, the reply maintained, Pasha only served in Pinstech for around 13 months, between June 2012 and July 2013.

The PAEC recalled that similar allegations were disproved when the apex court had taken suo motu action on a news report and the matter was disposed on April 3, 2014 when a report refuting the allegations was submitted by Pinstech.

The reply also noted that the last time this matter was raised, Pasha never turned up before a high-level committee of senior scientists – constituted on Supreme Court orders in 2014 to investigate similar allegations against the department – despite being summoned at least three times.

Mr Pasha, the reply said, had voluntarily withdrawn his petition at the time, after stating that he was satisfied and made a commitment not to raise the matter again.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2016

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