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Poor lab facilities

September 25, 2012

THE ongoing controversy over the import of supposedly infected Australian sheep by Pakistan highlights the need for proper research and testing facilities in this country. The sheep were found to be infected with foot-and-mouth disease by two labs in Sindh. However, tests from a lab in Islamabad indicated the animals were fine. This dichotomy in the labs’ findings is one of the major factors fuelling the controversy. In the past, there have also been reports of ‘infected’ wheat being brought into the country. In another incident, over 100 people died in Lahore earlier this year apparently because they had consumed substandard medicine. What all these incidents underscore is that the lack of proper research and testing facilities, both at the centre and in the provinces, have often resulted in confusion or delay in diagnosis.

While lack of resources is often cited as a stumbling block in the way of essential projects, this explanation hardly justifies the current situation. After all, drug-manufacturing companies pay one per cent of their profits to the state as ‘research tax’ — yet there are hardly any drug-testing facilities meeting international standards in the country. Considering that drug manufacturers have been paying this tax since the mid-1970s, the amount collected should have been substantial. It is the public’s right to know how much money has been collected and, more importantly, where and how it has been spent. The pharmaceutical industry that pays this tax should itself be asking the government for an explanation. Since the money was collected in the name of research, it would be best put to use by establishing labs at the federal and provincial levels where research and testing of drugs can be carried out, and where livestock and agricultural products can also be examined as a matter of routine. Such internationally accredited labs can be of use in times of public health scares as well, such as during the dengue season. Not only will the creation of such facilities be of great service where public health is concerned, they will also help certify that products meant for export are safe and conform to global standards.