THE Directorate General of Drug Administration and the Detective Branch have detained at least 18 people on charges of selling spurious medicines at Uttara in Dhaka on Thursday pointing to a worrying situation. Joint teams of the agencies raided a number of pharmacies at Uttara from where they seized a huge amount of counterfeit medicines. The pharmacies are reported to have passed off medicines manufactured at places in Dhaka as being imported from the United States and Canada and charged buyers excessive prices. The medicines are reportedly produced at Uttara, Fakirerpool, Chawkbazar and Tongi. The sales of spurious medicines are highly likely to be the tip of an iceberg as the overall drug testing and control mechanism, as experts say, is way below the standards. Lax drug control measures, inadequate drug testing facilities and an ineffective market monitoring mechanism, which have made the headlines time and again, have, in fact, largely contributed to a public health system that has failed to ensure people’s access to quality drugs at reasonable prices.
Locally manufactured and untested drugs passed off as being imported can prove fatal for patients as much as substandard local drugs, sales of which are not controlled through regular monitoring, can do. The sales of substandard and spurious drugs have in the recent past drawn widespread criticism, prompting the High Court to give directives to the drug administration and the other agencies concerned to address the issue and take punitive action against the people responsible. Two laboratories usually test drug products and they can test about 10 per cent of the total production while they cannot test ingredients imported to manufacture medicines by local companies. Moreover, the laboratories are also not equipped to test the quality, efficacy, potency and toxicity of drugs available on the market while homoeopathic, ayurvedic, yunani and other alternative medicines remain outside the purview of testing procedures. This shows that standards of locally produced drugs are also not properly ensured. A similar inadequacy in testing and monitoring imported drugs is also feared to have continued for years, adversely affecting public health. The National Drug Monitoring Centre and the National Pharmacovigilance Centre, which should work round-the-clock to ensure quality drug, have largely remained ineffective.
Making safe drugs available is a fundamental requirement for any public health system, but successive governments have been negligent towards drug market regulation. The government and its health wing must, therefore, be proactive in ensuring people’s access to quality drugs and must strengthen the drug testing facilities and monitoring mechanism so as to keep spurious and substandard drugs off the market. The government must also go tough on manufacturers, importers and retailers of spurious and substandard drugs for an effective public health system.
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