JUST when the floods devastated one-third of Pakistan’s land and the flood-hit citizenry faced malaria and dengue threats, the pharmaceutical industry realised that the raw material needed to manufacture paracetamol was too expensive for it to produce the required quantity of inexpensive tablets. Mysterious, but not quite.

The demand of raising the cost of medicines has been rejected by the federal government, but sooner or later the government will capitulate to the blackmailing by the pharmaceutical industry. Eventually, the burden will have to be carried by the millions who are already struggling to survive in the face of rampant inflation.

This entire matter needs introspection. If the government can import four-wheelers and other luxury items for the elite, it can also prioritise the import of raw material needed for mass production of paracetamol on an urgent basis. The government can also communicate the need of this medicine to all international donors, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), that are contributing to the flood relief programme.

If tax exemptions can be given to agricultural landlords, and electricity can be provided to the business community at much lower rates, why the government cannot procure medicines for the common man at a subsidised rate?

The coalition government can appease its vote bank, particularly the business industry, when the entire nation is made to suffer the crunch of harsh International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditions. But, ironically, it has no established writ against the pharmaceutical blackmailers and hoarders of medicines.

A major part of standing crops has been destroyed by the floods, and yet the merciless hoarders are busy doing their business as usual with impunity. Wheat flour has started to disappear from state-run Utility Stores and people are made to run after it. Things are bound to get worse from here onwards.

It is the duty of the state to punish those who are involved in hoarding medicines, and make their summary trials possible, for this offence is a crime against humanity. The course of things needs to change and the government should take timely action against all hoarders with zero exception.

Human security has been deemed as the central theme of national security in the country’s National Security Policy. Therefore, if the state can spend $450 million for the maintenance and servicing of F-16s, it can prioritise human health as well. It is time mal-governance and misplaced priorities were questioned by the common man.

Saman Aftab
Lahore

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2022

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