Clampdown on spurious drugs stressed
KABUL (PAN): Some people and healthcare experts have asked the government to harshly punish dealers in and importers of expired and substandard medicines.
Smuggled into the country, 80 tonnes of the low-quality drugs had been destroyed after being seized from importing companies, stores and pharmacies since March 22. As many as 300 tonnes was destroyed last year, the Ministry of Public Health said.
Some store owners and importing companies were fined, the ministry said, adding their stores were closed temporarily; permits invalidated and cases referred to judicial organs.
However, a resident of the Mairwais Maidan neighbourhood in Kabul City, Jamal Ahmad, said the measures taken by the ministry were not enough to prevent the smuggling and sale of such medicine.
In order to curb the business of substandard medicine, which sometimes killed patients, the dealers must be awarded exemplary punishment, he stressed.
“While buying medicine from a store, I checked sell-by dates and most of the drugs were expired. I returned them to the pharmacist. It is a big problem for uneducated people to read the expiry dates,” he added.
“Closing medical stores for a few days can’t solve the problem. Pharmacies selling substandard drugs should be fined and closed down for at least six months,” Ahmad stressed.
If such medicines were found in the same stores for a second time, their permits be scrapped and owners sent to jail for two years, he suggested.
“You may recognise expired medicine, but it is difficult identifying low-quality drugs,” said Zulekha, a resident of the Dasht-i-Barchi locality.
“I bought antibiotic for my patient from a store. When I took them to a physician, he told me they were substandard and advised me to purchase the same from another pharmacist,” the 22-year-old added.
Dr. Ikram Arzo, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist and lecturer at the Kabul Medical University, said low-quality medicine caused disorders and other problems. It also makes it hard for doctors to diagnose pathogens.
According to the ministry, a survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins University of the United States shows about 94 percent of the medicine used in Afghanistan is of low-quality.
But Arzo, acknowledging that substandard medicines were being imported to the country due to lack of border controls, rejected the survey’s findings as inaccurate. Since such drugs claim the lives of people, the dealers be treated according to the Islamic law and given harsh punishments, he said.
Pediatrician Abdullah, an advisor to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said drug stores, pharmacies and importers should be closely monitored.
Acting Public Health Minister Dr. Suraya Dalil said the ministry had fined and closed some stores and companies since March 22, 2011. Their work permits were also withdrawn.
Inadequate checks at borders let opportunists smuggle spurious medicine into the country, she said, adding the ministry’s monitoring teams were controlling pharmacies and drug companies.
But Dr Syed Mohammad Ibrahim Kamil, head of the Department of Health Law and Evaluation, said under the relevant rule, a pharmacy or pharmaceutical selling poor-quality or expired medicine be warned for the first time.
The stores be shut down for 15 days if they violate the law a second time; their shops be closed for six months in addition to cash fine if they are caught doing it for a third time. A fourth violation should entail cancellation of their work permits and import licences, he posited.
A committee of professionals had been working over the past two weeks on the medicine law, proposing severe punishments for violators, Kamil revealed.
The committee has been asked to frame regulations, containing advice, cash fine and business closure for sellers of poor-quality and expired medicine for a first time. Their stores will be sealed for six months in case of a second violation.
Business licences and work permits of the companies and stores will be revoked and they will be referred to the prosecutor’s office in the third step, he concluded.
The interior ministry has been cooperating with the public health ministry in preventing the import of spurious drugs, according to Ghulam Seddiq Siddiqui, a spokesman for the ministry.
He referred to the seizure of 14 truckloads of expired and low-quality medicine by police in Kabul three months ago. The people involved were referred to judicial institutions.
According to the public health ministry, there are 100 medicine-importing companies, 11 pharmaceuticals and 12,500 pharmacies across the country.