Maryam on the right track

Everyone has learnt corruption

It is indeed satisfying to note that Chief Minister of Punjab Maryam Nawaz is evincing keen interest in overhauling the health system in the province and improving the quality of services provided to the masses in the government hospitals. She has already put in place multiple steps to ensure that the poor masses get health facilities at their doorstep besides availability of free medicines to them. The introduction of air-ambulance in the system is probably the most laudable initiative taken by her.

On Tuesday she presided over a meeting of the health authorities in this regard and gave them a deadline to improve conditions in the government hospitals. The most significant outcome of the moot was her approval of a programme to rid Punjab of spurious and counterfeit drugs.

The production and marketing of spurious and fake drugs is a thriving business in the country run by unscrupulous elements which are playing with the health of the masses. It has been going on for decades without effective check and control by the concerned authorities.

A report published in the media reveals that there are more than 3000 factories in the country engaged in producing fake and spurious drugs. The biggest number of them is in Punjab followed by Sind, KP and Balochistan. They are using the lowest quality material smuggled from Iran, India and China for producing these medicines which are injurious to health. There are wholesale markets of these drugs in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and other cities.  Reportedly these factories are owned by members of the assemblies, doctors and owners of private hospitals which are prescribing these drugs in the name of known brands.

These medicines are also being used in some government hospitals. To avoid being detected they pack these medicines in containers with labels of known medicines. These factories produce injections, antibiotics, and cough syrups in which chemical substances are mixed. These medicines are also smuggled into Afghanistan and extensively marketed in the rural areas. The reason why this business is thriving is that those who are supposed to control such illegal activities are bribed by the mafia for maintaining silence

These medicines contain injurious ingredients or no active ingredients at all and the administration of these drugs may lead to treatment failure, exacerbation of health conditions, development of drug resistance and even death.  I remember a horrible incident involving the death of a journalist and TV anchor about four decades ago whose name was probably Idrees Baig. He was given an injection purchased from a medical store in front of Mayo Hospital Lahore which deteriorated his condition and finally caused his death.

The production of counterfeit and spurious drugs is the most heinous crime against the state and society. But who cares? We are the most corrupt society. The corruption at the top level of the governments has had its trickle-down effect and consequently it has almost become a vicious circle from which the exit seems almost impossible.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) does recognize the severity of the problem and feels that this issue requires coordinated efforts involving regulatory reform, enhanced enforcement mechanisms, public awareness campaigns and international cooperation to effectively combat the proliferation of counterfeit drugs and safeguard the wellbeing of the population.  Very right, but I think they conveniently neglect the fact that all the measures suggested by them are effectively neutralized by the all-permeating corruption.

It is not only a case of people’s health being jeopardized by the spurious and counterfeit drugs but there are also other mafias who are involved in destroying the health of the people to earn easy money. Adulteration of food items is another thriving business undertaken by the people bereft of humanitarian faculties. These days milk made from chemicals is also being marketed with impunity and it is very difficult to get pure milk from the milk outlets in the cities. Like drugs, the sellers earn a lot of profit and those marketing it also get a fair share of this ill-earned money at the cost of public health.

The whole system needs effective overhaul to succeed in checking different mafias in their tracks which are jeopardizing the health of the citizens. But as they say, the first step in the right direction guarantees success. Maryam has taken up this challenge and judging by her enthusiasm and drive one can hope that her efforts would make a lot of difference in this regard.

The rulers have been busy in building their own fortunes through in-built avenues of corruption in the system of governance and it is because of their corruption that the entire society has become afflicted with corruption and corrupt practices. Human values and morality are at the lowest ebb.

I do not subscribe to the often preferred view that such activities are undertaken secretly at unknown places and it is difficult to eradicate the menace altogether. Only fools would give credence to that idea. I know for sure that all the police stations have their own intelligence gathering system and the Station House Officers are fully aware of the illegal activities happening in their areas. But they look the other way in spite of taking action against them or sharing information with the concerned regulatory authorities, because money makes the mare go. As I said, the major factor in regards to failure in controlling crimes like this is the permeating corruption within the regulatory authorities themselves as well as the Police stations. If they were corruption-free then nobody could dare to indulge in such anti-social and anti-state activities.

Looking after the health of the people is the basic and constitutional obligation of the state and the governments running the state affairs. Unfortunately the governments have absolved themselves from performing their constitutional duty by allowing private investment in the health sector. As a result there has been a mushroom growth of private hospitals where the treatment is almost beyond the reach of the poor people. The condition in the government hospitals is very pathetic wherever they exist. This situation has also contributed to a great extent to the proliferation of counterfeit and spurious drugs.

The whole system needs effective overhaul to succeed in checking different mafias in their tracks which are jeopardizing the health of the citizens. But as they say, the first step in the right direction guarantees success. Maryam has taken up this challenge and judging by her enthusiasm and drive one can hope that her efforts would make a lot of difference in this regard.

Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Malik Muhammad Ashraf
Malik Muhammad Ashraf is an academic. He can be contacted at: [email protected].

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