Medicine shortage

Published April 24, 2020

PARTS of the country, especially Sindh and KP, are reported to be facing a shortage of a number of life-saving biological products used to treat cancer, angina, diabetes, etc, as well as vaccines for measles, rabies, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis B. Apparently, the National Control Laboratory has not been processing their certification since March 13. The failure of the government to appoint a new chief federal analyst at the NCL, who signs approvals for such products, is said by pharmaceutical firms to be the reason for the delay in the issuance of the certificates. No importer or manufacturer can market these drugs and vaccines without the NCL’s permission. It is indeed mind-boggling to see the government dragging its feet on such an important appointment, thus increasing the risk for critically ill patients who number in the thousands.

It is feared that the disruption in the supply chain of life-saving products and vaccines will trigger a new health crisis alongside Covid-19, which is now spreading fast. This is especially worrying given the fact that the government, in order to divert its resources to Covid-19 patients, has shut down OPDs at public hospitals, which is a precarious situation for people requiring urgent medical treatment. Allowing shortages of life-saving drugs at this time owing to bureaucratic lethargy is unforgivable. The approval and registration of new products has always been a cumbersome process in Pakistan because of bureaucratic obstacles. The industry has to wait for months — and in some cases years — to obtain permission to market the drugs being used effectively elsewhere in the world. The industry, for example, is awaiting permission to import and market certain new drugs to treat cancer and other serious diseases for the last 14 months, depriving patients of a chance to try new treatments. It is, therefore, necessary for the government to reform the entire process of registration of drugs and issuance of certification of life-saving drugs to ensure the latter’s quick and easy availability, especially in desperate times like these.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2020

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