ISLAMABAD: After a member of the Drug Court faced criticism for allegedly following the footsteps of former accountability judge Mohammad Arshad Malik, the highups of the Ministry of National Health Services have dissociated themselves from him.

Some officials in the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) believe that as members also sign decisions of the Drug Court, they should not interact with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry when the court hears cases related to the industry.

On the other hand, Drug Court member Azhar Hussain claimed that a malicious campaign had been started against him after the ministry sought his input on the medicine policy. He said some elements feared he (Mr Hussain) could play a role in bringing the prices of medicines to affordable level.

A lot of criticism was seen on social media and among stakeholders of the health sector as to how a member of the Drug Court, who signs court decisions, could interact with those against whom he was hearing cases. Moreover it is being said the former accountability judge, Arshad Malik, was removed as he admitted that he held meetings with the family members and friends of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

An official of Drap, requesting anonymity, said last week a conference on medicine policy was held in Rawalpindi and was participated by Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and a number of other personalities.

“Mr Hussain not only participated in the conference but remained close to Dr Mirza. Moreover Dr Mirza also introduced him as a competent person. Later the special assistant to the prime minister shared pictures on social media in which Mr Hussain was sitting next to him. A number of officials in Drap and the ministry believe that Mr Hussain should not have attended the conference as a representative of the pharma industry were also there and he heard cases against them,” the official said.

On the other hand, the NHS ministry has issued a statement claiming that Prof Dr Azhar Hussain has been working as dean of the pharmacy department in a private university in Islamabad.

“Because of his competence and qualification in 2016 he was appointed member Drug Court and also member of the Pharmacy Council. The appointment was made much before the current government came to power. So no official of the current govt had anything to do with Mr Hussain’s appointment,” it stated.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Hussain said he had worked with Dr Zafar Mirza in the past which was why the special assistant knew about his competence and positive approach towards work.

“There were 61 stakeholders in the conference and pharma industry was one of them. I participated in the conference as I got an invitation from the ministry. I have 150 publications and have been working on medicine policy for the last 15 years. As I am aware of all the issues related to medicine policy and can play a role to reduce drug prices, some elements have started a malicious campaign against me,” he said.

While replying to a question, he said he was member technical of the Drug Court and not a judge.

“I don’t even get salary so no one should pay heed to the criticism. Moreover, the role of academia cannot be ignored in policy-making and I wish to give input on the medicine policy,” Mr Hussain said.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2019