YET another case of medical malpractice has come to light in Punjab. The eyesight of several diabetic patients has potentially been destroyed after they were administered the locally manufactured Avastin injection used to treat retinal damage. The matter first came to light when cases surfaced in Kasur. It was subsequently found that patients have been affected in Lahore, Multan and Jhang districts as well. The incident is a grim reminder of the 2021 scandal, when expired stents were used at a leading hospital in Lahore. The devastation brought upon these individuals is immense. Typically for diabetics, the hope of maintaining vision lies in such treatments, and to lose one’s sight due to medical negligence is nothing short of a crime. For such events to occur repeatedly is symptomatic of a deep malaise affecting the country’s healthcare system. The urgency to comprehensively address these malpractices cannot be stressed enough. It is extremely concerning that even after the widespread condemnation and public outcry following the 2021 stent debacle, lessons seem not to have been learned. How is it that expired or substandard medical devices were used on patients then? And why is it now that dozens of patients were affected after receiving a treatment that they had undoubtedly hoped would improve their quality of life? Is there no oversight of the quality and management of our healthcare institutions?
The damage has been done. What must now follow is serious government intervention. While an investigative committee was formed over the weekend by the Punjab health authorities to ascertain whether it was negligence on the part of doctors or whether the issue stemmed from a specific batch of the drug (which has since been banned for two weeks), and while the Punjab health minister has promised free treatment to those affected, and moreover, while 12 health officials have been suspended, one wonders whether a true wake-up call has even occurred. With 68 people having potentially lost their eyesight, will the culture of negligence and impunity continue? While swift action against those responsible is non-negotiable, it is equally imperative for the affected patients to be justly compensated, not only as a remedial measure but as a gesture to acknowledge the profound impact of this negligence on their lives. It is time the trust eroded in our institutions is restored.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2023