KARACHI: An acute shortage of tetanus injection has been prevailing in the city for almost a month, forcing many hospitals to refuse the medication to injured patients, it emerged on Sunday.

Doctors associated with different private and public sector hospitals in the city told Dawn that the shortage of the medication had been prevailing for almost a month and that the injection was available on the black market at a very high price.

“Yes, there’s been an acute shortage of the medication for a month. But, we are managing this problem internally through our own resources,” an official of the Indus Hospital shared.

“Several people suffer injuries daily in Karachi who are now at a grave risk of suffering health complications, if they are not administered with anti-tetanus medication,” Pakistan Medical Association-Centre secretary general Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro said, adding that severe complications of tetanus could be “life-threatening”.

Injection available on the black market at very high price, say doctors

Commonly known as lockjaw, tetanus is a serious disease of the nervous system caused by a toxin-producing bacterium. The disease causes muscle contractions, particularly of the jaw and neck muscles. Severe complications of tetanus can be life-threatening. Immunisation is the only effective prevention from tetanus.

Doctors said health complications of tetanus included vocal cord spasms, broken bones due to severe muscle spasms, breathing problems, high blood pressure and blood clots in the lungs.

Countrywide shortage

Sources said the shortage of the medication wasn’t restricted to Karachi alone, but rather prevailed throughout the country. The Punjab government, in its bid to overcome the shortage, was set to purchase 1.5 million doses of the medication through a pharmaceutical company. The imported consignment would arrive in a few days, they said.

“It’s not just tetanus, rather many medicines, including that of diabetes, which have been in short supply for over a month. We had brought this matter to the notice of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) in writing over a month ago, inquiring whether the medicines’ shortage exists due to shortage of their raw material or problems in their import. Regrettably, there was no response and action,” said Dr Shoro of PMA.

Often medicines’ shortage was artificially created to raise their prices, he said, recalling that sometime back there was an acute shortage of the dog-bite vaccine.

“In both cases, the poor man suffers in silence. The anti-tetanus also has an important role in antenatal care where would-be mothers are given the medication to protect themselves and their babies from neonatal tetanus,” he explained.

At the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, officials stated that while the hospital faced a serious shortage of tetanus immunoglobulin, there was no shortage of anti-tetanus serum. “The serum has a preventive role while immunoglobulin is required to build passive immunity.”

Officials at the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi emphasised the need for an advisory of the health department on the use of anti-tetanus medication.

“There is a shortage of anti-tetanus serum but not of tetanus toxoid. While both medications have a preventive role, the former carries several risks. Hence, it’s better to use the latter medication, which is safe and globally recommended for tetanus,” a senior CHK doctor said, adding that most hospitals in Pakistan used anti-tetanus serum prepared from equine blood.

No official of the health department or DRAP was available for comments.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

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