SC to take up issue of alternative medicines’ regulation

Published June 24, 2021
The Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue to safeguard people from being looted and protect them from harmful effects of these medicines. — Photo courtesy SC website/File
The Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue to safeguard people from being looted and protect them from harmful effects of these medicines. — Photo courtesy SC website/File

ISLAMABAD: Regretting lack of awareness about the regulatory framework for alternative medicines among stakeholders, the Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue to safeguard people from being looted and protect them from harmful effects of these medicines.

“There appears to be no awareness amongst the persons involved in dealing with such products at different levels,” regretted a three-judge SC bench comprising Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan while hearing a bail petition.

Usually vitamins, food supplements and herbal and homeopathic medicines fall in the category of alternative medicines, which can be sold without doctor’s prescription.

The SC bench ordered the court office to make a separate file, register it as suo motu case and place the same before Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed for seeking a directive to fix the matter before a bench.

The bench so formed should consider regulatory framework for alternative medicines and their dispensation either in raw form or in the form of finished products to ensure that the people were not being looted and harmed, the order said.

In its June 11 order, the SC bench regretted that from the record, it appeared that there was confusion since the matter had been adjourned several times to seek assistance from attorney general for Pakistan and the advocate general of Punjab on regulatory framework for alternative medicines.

“It is recorded with great concern and utmost dismay that neither the Attorney General office nor the Advocate General Punjab or even the team of officers (Drug Inspector, Drug Controller, Rawalpindi) in attendance are clear in their minds as to how the alternative medicines are properly brought into regulatory framework and they vaguely are concerned as to manufacturing and import of such alternative medicines,” said the order authored by Justice Alam.

When inquired whether the dispensers (Pansaris) and their sale points were registered, rather more specifically inquired about such outlets situated at Abpara Market in Islamabad, which was a common sight, it was stated that they were neither enlisted nor inspected, the order stated.

The government law officers put the responsibility on a task force comprising selected officers from all provinces, the order observed, adding that none of the officials present in the court was aware of the responsibility who regulated alternative medicines.

The case at hand concerns an appeal of Mohammad Qasim and Khurram Shahzad against the Feb 25 Lahore High Court judgement. The petition was moved to seek bail for the offence under the Drugs Act, 1976, DRAP Act, 2012, and Pakistan Penal Code.

They were booked by Toba Tek Singh police on the charge of their involvement in manufacturing, stocking and selling drugs/therapeutic goods in violation of the laws.

Interestingly, in 2016, the then secretary of health, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mohammad Abid Majeed, had written a letter to the then federal secretary of Ministry of National Health Services, Ayub Sheikh, highlighting the sale of unregistered medicines in open market.

In the letter it was claimed that several fictitious firms had flooded the market with so-called food supplements, nutraceuticals, infant and baby formulae and herbal medicines.

According to media reports, invariably all these so-called alternative medicines contain allopathic ingredients.

In November 2020, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan had launched a campaign against unlisted alternative medicines after the customs department raided several medical stores in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and sealed them for selling imported alternative medicines without valid import documents.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2021

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