The High Court's observation to the effect that production, sale and storage of fake and adulterated medicines should be dealt with maximum punishment resonates with the sentiments of most people in the country. The remark was made at the time of hearing submissions following a writ petition filed with the HC on June 17, seeking confiscation of time-barred, fake and adulterated medicines from drug stores all over the country.
Complying with the order passed on June 18 by the HC, the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) made the submission that it had destroyed different drug companies' date-expired medicines valued at Tk 340.75 million in the past three months. It also realised Tk 17.49 million as fine by conducting mobile courts for the offence of storing and selling time-barred, fake and adulterated medicines. During the period, the mobile courts lodged 572 cases against pharmacies.
The volume of medicine destroyed gives the impression of the extent of malpractice prevailing in the pharmaceutical sector. If the volumes under different heads such as time-barred, fake and adulterated categories could be ascertained, a clearer picture of the criminal practice in the sector would have emerged. Retaining time-expired medicines unwittingly may have some benefit of doubt but so far as spurious medicines are concerned, there is a clear case of criminal motive. Barring a few, most drug stores in large cities have computerised their drug entries and maintenance of accounts. So, it is not difficult to keep a tab on the expiry dates of different drugs stored. They would not remove the expired medicines in the hope of selling those to unsuspecting customers.
Reports had it that time-barred, fake and adulterated medicines rule the roost in rural areas where customers are not aware of the malpractices. It would be incredulous to think that pharmacists procure spurious medicines without knowing the illegal source. They do so because of the lower prices of such medicines and they find poor patients gullible.
Sure enough, if there are manufacturers of spurious medicines, there are marketing organs as well. All three agents here are guilty but it is the manufacturers who are the prime culprits. After all, they are educated people who have learned the complex art of producing drugs notwithstanding the fact that those are exact prototype of the genuine medicines or made from substandard ingredients.
The DGDA has reportedly sealed only two pharmacies for storing time-barred and adulterated drugs. More pharmacies were supposed to have committed the same offence. But pharmacies are just outlets, not the sources of harmful and illegal medicines. When the commodity is not just like any other commodity but one that saves lives at the most critical time, the war should be waged against manufacturing plants or factories.
Is it too difficult a job to identify pharmaceutical factories that clandestinely produce spurious or substandard medicines? No one will believe this. Pharmaceutical units are not set up underground. Even if those were, the law enforcement agencies with the help of their intelligence branches could surely hound them out. That this is a serious business and should have been done in the interest of the nation's health and well-being has not occurred to the authorities concerned.
It took someone to file a writ petition with the High Court and the court to issue a directive for action before things started moving. Why? That spurious, adulterated and time-barred medicines have a huge market in the country is an open secret. Yet the authorities felt no compulsion to act. In fact, the health sector is embroiled with mismanagement of the pharmaceutical sector, hospitals and clinics, diagnostic facilities and even physicians.
Strangely, in a country where reputed pharmaceutical companies have successfully made a foray into the world's most rigorously maintained market such as the USA, irregularities and criminal practices prevalent here are definitely at odd with the achievement. Clearly, the companies maintaining high standard also suffer as a result of such ethical aberration by a few. So the need is to root out the factories that are toying with the lives of critical patients by manufacturing and marketing fake or substandard medicines.
Hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres run by incompetent and fake doctors often cause death or grievous harm to patients. But it is the genuine physicians who are also not doing justice to their reputation. Doctors in their private chambers take exorbitant fees from patients, not paying the attention the latter deserve. Commercial interests drive everyone mad. Medical ethics becomes a casualty in the process. When doctors receive costly gifts from medical agents, allegedly accept commission from diagnostic centres in return for referring patients to those, they compromise on medical ethics. But no one seems to mind such practices these days.
Clearly, people are more prone to making concessions. The greater the concessions are there, the more grievous the offences. Thus even the authorities have become accustomed to turning a blind eye to manufacture and sale of spurious medicines. Now is the time to say 'thus far and no further'. Let the High Court's observation be translated into practice.