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Lives on the line

Published Jan 25, 2012 11:44am

Pakistan is one the many ‘blessed’ countries where the disparity amongst rich and poor masses is so high that official poverty surveys fail to reflect the actual statistics of the distribution of wealth. Poor masses are getting poorer and the rich are becoming resourceful and wealthier by the day.

‘Poverty’ is a term which is generally affiliated with countries such as India and Pakistan; however I feel it highly necessary to define the term in its ‘full glory’. Poverty is not only lack of means but in fact poverty is helplessness and not having the resources to send one’s child to school. Poverty is unemployment, in its many forms, and the fear of the future which looks bleak. Poverty is living in an ordeal in which one meal a day is a ‘luxury’ for many people. Poverty is sleeping on the pavements and begging to make ends meet. And, quoting the recent catastrophe that has grappled the entire nation, poverty is not having access to real doctors and dying of counterfeit medicines provided by the government itself.

Counterfeit medicines, or more commonly known as fake medicines, remain a huge problem in poor countries where most citizens do not have access to education and are willing to compromise on the quality of life on the slightest availability of ‘price discounts’. However, what these people fail to realise is that the consumption of counterfeit medicines can have fatal repercussions because the formulae may contain wrong dosages of the active ingredients.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Pakistan as one of the most significant producers and sellers of counterfeit medicines. According to sources, 40 to 50 per cent of the medicines in Pakistan are of substandard quality. The most astonishing point that has been raised, following the deaths in Lahore is the reiteration of the government that Pakistan does not have any facility which can detect the imitation or spurious ingredients present in counterfeit drugs.

Since the city of Lahore is amongst the affected area this time and the fatalities have literally ‘skyrocketed’, the government is taking action against the culprits but what about the small incidents that take place in rural establishments? Who investigates the deaths of poor people who die every day because of malpractices and substandard medicines? Most cases go unreported and the raison d'être of many remain a mystery. Who is held responsible for these deaths? The situation can best be described as outrageous mismanagement of resources.

It is not only counterfeit medicines that seem to be claiming innocent lives in Pakistan. Many pharmacies in Pakistan sell expired drugs which can be as fatal as fake drugs. So far, the government and media have only shown a ‘reactive approach’ to tackle the problem signifying that reported incidents and issues get all the hype and media attention, however we have yet to see a regulatory body or agency which aims to eradicate and wipe out the nucleus of such illegal activities.

Apparently, counterfeit drug producers are not the only criminals which seem to somehow bypass the government and law enforcing agencies. Fake doctors also seem to have an ‘arrangement’ with all the right connections. These doctors play with lives, however, what is more disgusting is the fact that the courts suspend announced sentences and grant bails to the perpetrators of such appalling crimes.

What transpires between the judiciary, law enforcing agencies, government and these ‘traders of death’ is unknown to many innocent people. What we do seem to know for a fact is that the health and lives of millions of people will continue to be threatened until a concrete set of laws and policies are formulated and implemented to put a stop to these criminal activities.

However, Sindh Assembly’s demand that the government should work on putting an end to the production and sale of spurious drugs is a positive move but this time the people of Pakistan demand to see tangible results. Pending applications to fight against this evil will not satisfy any of us, instead only prolong the debacle while our lives are literally on the line.

The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com