Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Monday said that the provincial government had withdrawn two batches of an allegedly adulterated eye drug — that resulted in the loss of eyesight for over a dozen diabetic patients, including a brother of senior PPP leader Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed — and verification of the seized injection was under way to identify those responsible.
Several diabetic patients in Lahore, Kasur and Jhang districts had been administered Avastin injections to address retinal damage, but the doses led to severe infections, ultimately resulting in the loss of their eyesight.
The diabetic patients who were administered the drug developed a life-threatening disease, endophthalmitis, an inflammation of the inner coats of the eye, and the issue first surfaced when several cases of the drug’s reaction were reported from the Kasur district.
An investigation team of doctors have expressed fears of a surge in the number of affected patients after learning that the drug had been supplied to many trust hospitals, other health facilities and the local market.
Speaking to reporters in Lahore today, CM Naqvi emphasised that decisive action could be taken once the report of the incident was available, which he said was expected in 10-12 days.
He also stressed the need to determine whether the issue was related to the injection itself or the transportation process, adding that it was also important to maintain proper temperature for such medicines.
Naqvi explained that the injections were manufactured in Lahore and dispatched to Sadiqabad, which made it essential to pinpoint where the problem occurred.
The chief minister expressed concern about a lapse in government oversight, questioning how the drug inspector had allowed the sale to proceed. He also raised questions about the role of the healthcare commission in overseeing those activities in private hospitals, suggesting the need for self-accountability.
Naqvi underscored that addressing such issues required establishing and adhering to standard operating procedures (SOPs), stating that simply transferring officers would not solve the problem.
In response to a question, the chief minister highlighted an issue, noting that a 400-ml injection, for instance, was found to cost Rs. 4000, but it was being sold for Rs. 40 each in syringes, which he described as an “illegal act”. He mentioned that the investigation was ongoing to determine where the problem had actually occurred.
He also said that individuals affected by the administration of adulterated drugs would receive free medical treatment.
Earlier in the day, the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department suspended 12 drug inspectors, deputy drug controllers and drug controllers in Lahore, Jhang, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Kasur, Bahawalnagar, Khanewal and Multan.
The suspended officials were posted in grades 17, 18 and 19. They have been told to immediately report back to the health department.
A day earlier, the caretaker federal minister for National Health Services (NHS) Dr Nadeem Jan with his counterpart in Punjab, Dr Jamal Nasir, held a press conference to address the matter and said a five-member team had been formed to determine whether the damage to the eyes was caused by the medicine, cold chain management, sterilisation issues or doctor errors.
The injection was also recalled from the market and subsequently banned for two weeks.
On Sunday, the Punjab health authorities lodged a criminal case against the manufacturers of the injection.
Deputy Drug Controller Hafiz Alam Sher of the chief drug controller office of Punjab earlier lodged the FIR with the Faisal Town police station under Drug Act, 1976 and Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan (DRAP) Act, 2012.
He nominated Naveed Abdullah of Kahna and Bilal Rasheed in the case, alleging that they manufactured the ‘controversial drug’ on the premises of a private hospital — Saira Memorial Hospital Faisal Town Lahore — and supplied the same across the province.
A high-powered team of the health department also raided the manufacturing unit at the private hospital, confiscated the drugs and further initiated departmental proceedings when the officials found out that the owners were running the illegal unit in sheer violation of the drug rules and regulations.
The raiding team comprised deputy drug controller (Nishtar Town) Hassan Haider Shah, deputy drug controller (Muridke) Bilal Yasin, drug inspector (Wagha Town) Kamal Sikandar, deputy drug controller (Iqbal Town) Sher Zaman, drug inspector (Samanabad) Rameez Ahmad Khan and drug inspector (Sharaqpur) Amanullah.
According to the FIR, Deputy Drug Controller Hafiz Alam Sher alleged that the raiding team noted that the accused owners of the unit were illegally manufacturing several unregistered drugs including Avastin (1.25mg and 0.05mg).
The team sent the report to the secretary of the district quality control, stating the accused persons committed a heinous crime by manufacturing the unregistered drugs in sheer violation of the drug rules which later led to the loss of eyesight of several patients in Punjab.