ISLAMABAD: Responding to questions pertaining to the collusion of doctors and key players in the pharmaceutical industry, and allegations of failing to keep in check a hike in the prices of drugs, Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar told the Senate on Monday that there had not been a shortage of medicines in the country over the past six months.

Winding up a discussion on the performance of the drug regulatory authority with regard to the availability, quality and prices of medicines, Ms Tarar said the government had ensured the availability of affordable and quality medicines in the country. She added that medication barcodes had been introduced to ensure quality. “Pakistan’s exports from the pharmaceutical industry have increased, which indicates quality of our drugs,” she remarked.

The minister said that the prices of drugs were regulated to provide the commodity to consumers at affordable rates. She claimed that the present government had done more work over the last three years to ensure the quality of drugs in Pakistan than had been done over the last 70 years.

Earlier, several senators had expressed concern over the unchecked trade of spurious medicines in the country. Senator Azam Swati had said that no citizen was satisfied with the quality, availability or prices of medicines. The cartelisation of the pharmaceutical sector must be checked and those in the business of selling substandard and fake medicines should be punished, he said.

Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement regretted that many people were forced to buy costly medicines as the government was not able to control the increasing prices of medicines.

Senator Usman Kakar of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party said the sale of fake medicines was on the rise, and that the government was neither checking nor punishing those involved in the business. He said even the stents transplanted in the hearts of cardiac patients were found to be fake.

Senator Dr Ashok Kumar said that Indian medicines available in Pakistan were not only better in quality, but were comparatively cheap. He said that pharmaceutical companies had not only arranged foreign tours for doctors, but had also given them expensive gifts, including cars, to make sure that they prescribed costly medicines to patients.

Senator Mushahid Hussain agreed that a mafia was seen to be emerging in the country with regard to the pharmaceutical industry. He said a lot of people had started travelling to India for medical treatment.

Separately, Senator Azam Swati of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf introduced a bill seeking an amendment to the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPc), which suggests a punishment of 10 years imprisonment in cases of unsafe blood transfusions, and a five-year jail term in cases of adulteration of drugs, and two years imprisonment for adulteration of foods and beverages.

The senators also proposed the establishment of tax courts to adjudicate on tax-related disputes and grievances.

Speaking on the motion, the senators said that the Federal Board of Revenue had simultaneously assumed the role of complainant, investigator and judge in tax-related matters, while the right to appeal also rests with the FBR. They said that instead of focusing on ways and means of increasing the tax base, those paying taxes were being harassed so much that it scared those wanting to come within the tax net.

They said that taxpayers neither got justice nor did they see their tax money being properly utilised.

The house continued discussion on the issue of the trichotomy of powers, with members calling for an intra-institutional dialogue as announced by Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani a few months ago. They said a committee of the whole should be convened and representatives of various state organs should be invited to resolve the matter. The house will meet again on Tuesday (today) at 3pm.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2017

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