THE mess that is the drugs’ market in the country seems only to be growing worse. After various debacles concerning the industry, from problems of regulation and the implementation of law to the ability to check the constitution of medicines, we now have the Pakistan Young Pharmacist Association alleging that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan is responsible for the unavailability on the market of some 200 lifesaving drugs. In Lahore on Monday, the PYPA accused Drap of corruption, nepotism, and procedural shortcuts in terms of appointments and promotions. The allegations include appointing but not paying multiple dozens of pharmacists for over a year, junior officers being given charge of positions that ought to have gone to individuals more senior in the profession, and even artificially creating a shortage of lifesaving medicines in the market on the alleged basis that some companies are allowed to make more profit than others. Meanwhile, also on Monday, at the Senate in Islamabad, several senators expressed concern at what they referred to as the unchecked trade of spurious medicines and the ‘cartelisation’ of the pharmaceutical sector. However, the Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar told the Senate that there was no shortage of medicines in the country — and had not been for over six months. She insisted, in fact, 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.
Which version are we to believe? Ms Tarar’s statement appears to be directed at the political lobby, while the PYPA has its own grievances. True, there have often been reports of the shortage of certain medicines — it is a continuing and distressing problem in the country — but the situation has not yet reached emergency levels. Even so, it is the job of the minister and the government she represents to make the situation clear and to also work towards tackling other challenges in this sector. It is an open secret that the market in this country is awash with spurious medicines. There is not just a dearth of drug-testing laboratories, there is also the fact that even essential medicines are sold on the black market to people who require them urgently. It would be clichéd to say that the lack of governmental will is playing with people’s lives; unfortunately, clichés often hold true, as in this case.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2017