THE confiscated drugs.—Twitter/murtazawahab1
THE confiscated drugs.—Twitter/murtazawahab1

KARACHI: Sindh’s health authorities seized more than 48 million tablets of paracetamol, a common painkiller that recently disappeared from pharmacies across the country amid rising malaria and dengue cases, during a raid on a warehouse of a multinational pharmaceutical company in Karachi on Thursday, suspecting it of hoarding to create artificial shortage as the industry seeks price hikes.

However, the company and the pharmaceutical industry strongly reacted to the provincial government’s claim, rejecting the accusation of hoarding and saying the confiscated stock was meant to be released and distributed across the country.

It all began in the second half of the day when a team of the Chief Drug Inspector’s office of the Sindh health department visited the warehouse located on Hawkesbay Road and found thousands of cartons carrying packs of Panadol tablets.

“It’s the warehouse of a distribution company named Connect, which is a subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline [GSK] Consumer Healthcare,” drug inspector Dilawar Jiskani told Dawn. “It’s a huge quantity of medicine that is not available in the market. It does raise suspicions.”

Firm denies Sindh govt’s ‘hoarding’ accusation, says confiscated stock meant to be distributed across country

When questioned, the staff and managers of the facility said that it was fresh produce, but they didn’t have any documentary evidence to support their claims, Mr Jiskani said, adding: “So we contacted the high-ups, including the [Sindh] health minister and health secretary, and after meeting all due formalities, the stocks were seized.”

He said more than 48 million — or 48,378,600, to be precise — Panadol tablets packed in 4,032 cartons were confiscated. However, he said no one was arrested, nor was any case registered as the investigation was at its initial stage.

He said the “company’s involvement” in creating the shortage couldn’t be ruled out, which was why its officials had been summoned to explain their position on Friday (today).

Paracetamol — a generic name for a drug used to reduce pain and a high temperature — is an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, meaning it can be obtained from pharmacies without a prescription. In Pakistan, it’s available under several brand names, such as Panadol, Calpol, Disprol and Febrol, in both tablet and oral suspension forms.

Amid growing cases of dengue, malaria and viral haemorrhagic fevers, the medicine has recently disappeared from pharmacies across the country.

Only on Monday, Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel accused pharmaceutical companies of creating an artificial shortage to get a price hike and warned them none of their “blackmail” tactics would work.

The federal minister’s stance strengthens the fresh claim of the Sindh government, but the industry insisted that the move, described as hoarding, was nothing but a “normal course of business”.

“We can confirm the recent news about the raid on one of our warehouses,” GSK said in a statement. “We firmly reject the claims related to hoarding Panadol intentionally to create a shortage. The stocks at this warehouse were intended to be released and distributed in the country in the normal course of business.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2022

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