ISLAMABAD: After receiving a complaint from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) health ministry, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) has launched a crackdown on the sale of spurious, substandard, unregistered and banned medicines.
Drap Chief Executive Officer Dr Mohammad Aslam said the process to regulate medicines had also been intensified to check the trade of spurious and alternative medicines.
Last week, Secretary Health KP Mohammad Abid Majeed wrote a letter to the Secretary Ministry of National Health Services Ayub Sheikh, raising the issue of unregistered medicines being sold in the market.
The letter said the promulgation of the Drap Act 2012 had given a legal cover to the over the counter (OTC) drugs and alternative medicines as previously they were excluded from the definition of drugs.
Official says unregistered homeopathic, herbal, ayurvedic, nutritional drugs and food supplements are being sold as medicines
It may be clarified that OTC drugs are directly sold to consumers without a prescription from a healthcare professional. Except allopathic all the drugs, including herbal, Unani and homeopathy, are called alternative medicines.
The letter alleged that soon after the promulgation of the Act, a number of fictitious firms started pouring so-called food supplements, infant and baby formulae and herbal medicinal products into the market.
“Invariably, all these so-called alternative medicines were reported as containing allopathic ingredients openly sold in the market. From January to June 2016, as many as 534 nutrition/alternative medicines were analysed by the provincial drug laboratories. It was found that there were ingredients which could be damaging to the public health,” the letter said.
The medicines have fake labels and addresses that sometimes claimed that the manufactures were based in the Western countries. However, there was no import document.
“These include homeopathic, herbal, ayurvedic, Chinese, nutritional drugs and food supplements which are actually unregistered but are sold as alternative medicines. The so-called ‘natural’ products of any category are not natural at all,” it added.
The provincial health secretary sought a ban on the practice until a comprehensive mechanism was formulated to ensure standards, clinical efficacy and controlled prices.
A doctor at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) requesting anonymity confirmed that allopathic medicines were being sold in the name of herbal products but at very high rates.
“On the other hand, a number of companies have stopped manufacturing allopathic medicines and are now producing alternative medicines,” he alleged.
In reply to a question, he said ‘cod liver oil’ was given to children, women and elderly people as it was good for the bones.
“However, a bottle of the cod liver oil, which was sold for Rs150, has disappeared from the market and the same oil is now available for Rs1,200 after being renamed as herbal oil.”
He said a bottle of surbex T (vitamin) was availed for Rs50 in the market but the same capsules were also being sold for Rs1,500 under the label of an alternative medicine. Allopathic medicines are made under licensing and in a controlled environment but no one knows where and how herbal medicines and food supplements are produced, he said.
On the other hand, he added, doctors have started suggesting food supplements, instead of allopathic medicines, because they get financial benefits from the companies. If this practice continues, within a few years, some allopathic medicines will disappear from the market and only food supplements will be available.
“The companies are offering cash incentives, foreign trips and even arranging vehicles and family functions for doctors to ensure that they prescribe alternative drugs. There is a need to take strict measures to stop this practice,” he said.
Dr Aslam told Dawn that there was a chain of companies, retailers and doctors that suggested selling alternative medicines.
“We have made a policy under which every medicine and company has to be enlisted so that we will be able to have a check on them. All over the world, non-regulated companies are brought in the semi-regulated and then regulated market. We have started that process and things are now improving.”
He said the importance of the drug quality was increasing in the country because of the steps taken by the government to ensure quality control, registration process and manufacturing facilities.
“We have enhanced the level of inspection and are putting a check on the prices. This will help in addressing the complaints from provinces,” he said.
Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2016