Lahore: More than 120 life-saving medicines are not available in the medical stores of the provincial capital. Patients and their families are facing severe problems due to shortage of essential medicines across Lahore.
Disappearing medicines notably include Glucophage, a primary medication for diabetics. Single alternative medicines also face supply problems.
120 life-saving drugs are missing from stores Other essential blood thinners for heart patients and Hepamers (Hepa-Merz), which are commonly used to treat liver diseases such as jaundice, hepatitis and hepatic cirrhosis, are also in short supply. Medicines to treat diarrhea and colic are either completely rare or in short supply. Additionally, there is a severe shortage of life-saving insulin known as Novomics.
What is more worrying is that it has recently become the norm. Pharmaceutical companies say rising inflation and production costs are hampering their ability to get these drugs quickly. On the contrary, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) attributes the main reason for the shortage of drugs in the market to hoarding and profiteering by pharmaceutical companies.
Supply and demand problem in Lahore
Lahore General Hospital healthcare professional Dr. Alia Haider says that Lahore was already a high-risk area for drug shortages because the city has a serious problem of water pollution, which is used to treat hepatitis, diarrhea and gastrointestinal diseases. Therefore, more than usual supply of required medicines is required. Expressing regret, he said that the water pollution in some areas of Lahore is being ignored continuously, which has resulted in a significant increase in the number of patients suffering from these diseases. The lack of medication in these situations adds to the seriousness of the situation.
Dr. Alia Haider’s approach highlights the urgent need to focus on improving water quality and infrastructure to ensure the health and well-being of the local population. She adds, “When government hospital pharmacies are supplied with life-saving drugs in bulk, only 20 percent of the stock is used on hospital patients. About 80 percent of this stock is sold on the black market.” Due to which there is severe shortage of life saving equipment and medicines in government hospitals and as a result the market price of these products has also increased.
Black marketing of drugs
In November 2022, the Punjab Anti-Corruption Unit registered a case related to the alleged embezzlement of Rs 80 crore during the purchase of medicines and surgical instruments at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore. The scandal led to charges against 12 doctors and hospital officials, all following a complaint by a pharmacist.
It revealed that the Punjab Finance Department had allocated a budget of Rs 130 crore for the purchase of a wide range of items, including life-saving essential drugs and essential surgical disposables. Surprisingly, out of the 6,000 items earmarked for procurement, the hospital tendered only 21.
This disclosure underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in the distribution and use of public funds for health care. Such incidents not only raise concerns about financial mismanagement, but also potentially jeopardize the delivery of essential medical supplies and services to those in need.
Health experts have expressed concern that this appears to be a hoarding phase that takes place just before these drugs are sent to the market at exorbitant prices. When essential life-saving drugs disappear from the market, it increases the demand for the products, which then sends the stockpiled drugs to the black market but inflates their prices. Patients have to buy these medicines at very high prices.
What else is happening in Lahore?
Regarding Lahore, this news came to light on August 28, 2023. The very next day, DRAP’s Medical Device Board (MDB) published the minutes of its 59th meeting, which was held on August 8, 2023. A list of 186 drugs was not allowed to be imported in this session.
Insulin shortage is a very disturbing and worrying problem in Pakistan. A 2022 study revealed that a staggering 26.7 percent of adults in Pakistan suffer from diabetes, making it the country with the highest number of diabetics worldwide.
On August 26, 2023, reports surfaced that insulin worth Rs 1 million was stolen from the government-run Syed Mutha Teaching Hospital in Lahore. Medical Superintendent Dr. Kashif told the media that insulin for diabetic patients was stolen from the hospital and transported in rickshaws. In response, the police launched an operation that led to the arrest of the driver and an official inquiry into the matter.
However, when media coverage was taking place after the arrest by the police, insulin worth Rs 10 lakh was placed in direct sunlight. Insulin needs to be stored in a specific temperature range of 2 to 6 degrees Celsius, whereas the temperature on that day was between 36 and 38 degrees Celsius. This very unfortunate incident reflects the recurring crisis of drug shortages and artificially inflated prices.
DRAP has launched a helpline at [email protected] and a mobile application called ‘Drug Shortage Reporting’ on Play Store. Through public opinion, DRAP aims to maintain a database of drug shortages in markets across the country, but in a country where more than 90 million people are illiterate and 15 percent of the population still does not have access to any mobile or tele. Work is deprived of access to services, these types of measures do not solve the problem.
Frequent disappearance of essential drugs from the market and shifting of stockpiles to the black market is a result of negligence on the part of the government, collusion of pharmaceutical companies and total lack of accountability on the part of regulatory authorities.