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Health hazard: Public hospitals using untested medicines worth millions of rupees



KARACHI: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was informed on Friday at a meeting that medicines worth millions of rupees are being provided to patients at public hospitals in Sindh without drug testing reports.  

The quality and efficacy of the drugs cannot be confirmed. The health department officials claimed that the only drug testing laboratory of the provincial government has been non-functional for the past many years therefore they had no other option but to supply the medicine to patients without checking the quality.

“Soon after we get the medicine delivery, we write to the drug inspectors to check their quality but for the last few years no one has submitted the report,” said Dr Saeed Qureshi, medical superintendent of Civil Hospital, Karachi. “We receive the medicine from reputable firms but the government lab is non-functional and we cannot afford to send the medicine to Punjab or other provinces for tests because it takes weeks to give report,” he explained.

Read: Pakistan’s fake drugs markets sell medicines made of poison and brick dust: report

The Sindh Assembly’s provincial watchdog’s chairperson, Saleem Raza Jalbani, called it “criminal negligence” on the part of health officials and referred the case to the chief secretary’s office for inquiry. “We want an inquiry into this matter within 15 days, otherwise we will drag the issue to the assembly and anti-corruption department because the health officials are playing with people’s lives,” he said.

“Four hospitals in Karachi and Nawabshah have purchased medicine worth Rs522 million. As per rules no hospital can utilise medicines without getting a report from a drug testing lab,” said Siraj Mustafa Jokhio, Sindh’s audit director-general, presenting the audit paras from 2009-10. “At the time of the audit, when we argued, these officials contended that in the absence of a laboratory, the local doctors have checked the quality of the medicines,” he alleged.

During the meeting, the medical superintendent of Peoples Medical Hospital, Nawabshah only presented three drug testing reports before the PAC and said he had obtained the reports from the Central Drug Lab in Karachi.

Read: Inspection team busts health facilities stocking expired medicines

Health secretary Saeed Ahmed Mangnejo said his department has taken notice of the non-functional lab and work on a new drug testing laboratory is underway. “There are lots of hospitals and the existing lab did not have the capacity to deal with them, therefore we are going to establish a big and modern lab,” he claimed.

Another PAC member, MPA Sardar Shah, diverted the attention of the health officials towards expired medicine being used at public hospitals. “I have given show cause notices to around 250 doctors for their negligence and strict action will be taken against those involved,” replied Mangnejo.

During the meeting most of the health officials did not provide records of their expenses, which irked the PAC chairperson who suggested Mangnejo suspend the officials.

Excuses aplenty

The senior-most officials responsible for running the hospitals’ affairs were absent from the meeting, with their subordinates extending flimsy excuses for them. Jokhio presented irregularities of Rs25 million in the accounts of eight public hospitals and said, “Most of these hospitals have not given us a reason why they have not deposited this amount received against X-ray, rent and taxes etc.”

When Jalbani asked the assistant medical superintendent of Chandka Medical College Hospital about the Rs1.2 million irregularities in their accounts, he said, “Our accountant has been in a critical condition for the last year. He is now in a coma and cannot respond to us.” A representative for the director of the Institute of Skin Diseases said that his employer could not attend the meeting because he was ill.  An official representing Services hospital, Karachi said, “My boss has gone to attend a relative’s funeral, which is why he could not attend the meeting today.”

The PAC chairperson and members asked Mangnejo to take action against the absent officers.  After the meeting, Jalbani said that there were a total 11 audit paras of Rs878 million, out of which only four paras of Rs109 million have been settled.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2015.

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