Spurious cardiac drugs claim 72 lives in Punjab, Pakistan

Lahore, 24 Jan. 2012: Spurious drugs provided to cardiac patients by a state-run hospital in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, have claimed 72 lives during last few days, more than double the figure initially given by provincial authorities.

The Punjab health secretary confirmed the total number of deaths while responding to journalists’ queries.

Earlier, the Punjab government had confirmed the deaths of only 28 cardiac patients registered with Lahore’s Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

The provincial government has faced strong criticism for concealing facts related to deaths due to these spurious drugs, which were distributed by PIC among poor and needy patients.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) launched a crackdown on the instructions of federal authorities, and arrested the owners of three pharmaceutical companies.

FIA officials closed these firms on charges of supplying spurious drugs which caused the deaths of patients and affected dozens of others.

The administration of PIC faced an embarrassing situation when dozens of patients and their families assembled outside the hospital to protest about the deaths.

“We want action against the people responsible for the deaths of poor patients” the protesters said, chanting slogans against the hospital’s administration and provincial government.

Officials of the FIA said they had taken action despite resistance from the Punjab government.  “Seeing the non-seriousness of the provincial government in taking action against the persons responsible for the deaths, the federal government directed the FIA to go in for direct action” said a senior official of the agency who did not want to be named.

The official further said the FIA would expose the Punjab government officials, including doctors and drug inspectors, who were allegedly responsible for these lapses. “Action will be initiated against provincial drug inspectors and officials of drug testing laboratories,” he said.

The ruling party of Punjab province – Pakistan Muslim League – is at odds with Pakistan Peoples’ Party, ruling the center and two provinces – Sindh and Baluchistan.

Meanwhile, medical experts suspected five medicines, Solprin, Zafnol, Concont, Cardiovascin and Isotab, which had been provided to cardiac patients registered with the PIC.

They said the patients taking the medicines were brought to hospitals with symptoms of a sudden drop in platelets and bleeding from different body parts. They said initially they took the symptoms as that of dengue. More than 150 patients are reportedly under treatment in different city hospitals.

The Punjab Health Department had ordered the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing and supplying the affected medicines to withdraw all stocks from hospitals and the market. They said the department had also ordered Executive District Officers of Health and medical superintendents to immediately stop use of  these medicines immediatly and seal stocks. They also instructed drug inspectors to withdraw medicines from the registered patients.

It is learnt that no cardiac patient died of drug reaction at the PIC because its OPD patients were admitted to public and private hospitals close to their localities.

The Punjab government has also constituted a high-powered probe committee.

Arrangements were being made to analyze local and foreign cardiac medicines used in the PIC. The samples of affected drugs have been dispatched for examination by the National Institute of Health, Islamabad, Chemical Examiner, Punjab, Organic Chemistry Lab, Punjab University, Lahore, in Pakistan and drug testing laboratories in France and Belgium.

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