Drug regulation challenge
THE passage of the 18th Amendment to the constitution has thrown up a number of challenges on different fronts, some of which have proved tri-ckier to resolve than was anticipated. Amongst these is devolution to the provinces of functions of the erstwhile federal health ministry. In recent months, this sector has been in the news frequently. Particularly in the wake of several deaths in Lahore due to the consumption of low-quality or fake drugs, and the scandal that surfaced regarding the manipulation of quotas of medicinal ingredients, the sphere has been the focus of public attention. Much of the confusion has been cleared up as a result of the law establishing the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan. Under this, the functions of the health ministry have been taken over by this agency. Yet cracks remain, as was highlighted by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday in Islamabad.
Having taken up the matter of the availability of spurious drugs on the market, the SC bench ordered the four provincial governments to apprise it of steps they have taken to not just control the flow of fake or substandard drugs into the market, but also address the rising prices of medicines. The latter, it seems, does not fall under the purview of DRAP; according to a report submitted before the bench by the additional advocate general, Punjab, Jawwad Hassan, drug prices are fixed by the federal government under Section 12 of the Drugs Act 1976, through notification in the official gazette, and the provinces have no role in the matter. This is as it should be, since drug-pricing needs to be standardised across the country and availability must be uniform. Yet having regulations in place on paper is one matter; ensuring that they are adhered to is another altogether. In actual fact, the state’s role in keeping a check on the quality and sale of drugs is piecemeal to say the least. This gap must be plugged on an urgent footing. The cost to public health is too great to allow anything to fall through the cracks.