Two State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) employees have been interdicted for using the wrong formula in preparing a drug for hypertension. The timely detection of the grave mistake is said to have helped avert disaster. The SPC is a respected institution which has stood the poor in good stead and it ought to be extremely careful to avoid such lapses, which might lead to the erosion of public confidence and damage its reputation in a highly competitive environment. Sabotage cannot be ruled out, according to SPC authorities.
Care should be taken not only in the preparation of drugs but in their prescription as well. Sri Lanka boasts of producing quality doctors but one sees most of them learn their pharmacology from sales representatives of pharmaceutical companies that look after their interests. How beholden the medical fraternity has become to the multinational pharmaceutical mudalalis is evident from the funds that the former gets from the latter for professional events, foreign trips or even boozing parties. There are also reports of doctors collecting commissions from pharmacies and/or drug companies on the drugs they prescribe. Needless to say that such unethical practices are at the expense of the sick, who are made to pay for expensive branded drugs, in most cases, unnecessarily.
Big time pharmaceutical mudalalis have spread their tentacles all over the health sector. Those who are entrusted with regulating drugs are allegedly colluding with drug companies. Some years ago, this newspaper blew the lid off a racket where some cough syrup well past the shelf life was being marketed with the labels altered. A senior doctor pointed out that it might even cause death, though fortunately no deaths were reported. But, as expected, there was no reaction from the Health authorities, who should have been jolted into action. Various excuses were trotted out for not taking any action and the matter died a natural death. Now we learn that instead of ordering an investigation, following our expose, the drug regulators promptly registered the cough syrup, which had been in the market as an unregistered product until then. It had even been purchased for the use of the armed forces! So much for the drug regulation in this country!
As for food regulation, there doesn`t seem to be any mechanism in place. Fast food joints are a law unto themselves, dishing out as they do fat and salt to the nation. In countries like the UK, restrictions have been imposed on the use of fat in cooking, but not in this country where anything goes. A few years ago, Kamla Bhasin pointed out in an article that a particular multinational food company had been using mono sodium glutamate (MSG) far in excess of the permitted levels in a bid to register the taste of their meat products in children`s brains with the help of that chemical, despite its carcinogenicity. Strict regulation in the developed world has made those junk food giants march out and prey on the developing world. The health authorities here must be asked whether they have ever cared to measure the fat or MSG levels in food. Junk food has been identified as one of the main causes of hypertension in a number of countries and steps are being taken to control it. The same precautionary measures need to be adopted here as well, given the high incidence of heart diseases.
Vegetables and rice are replete with chemicals, which are abused without any control. Due to excessive use of agro chemicals, which finally find their way into tanks and waterways, the people are wary of consuming fresh water fish. Even the poor man`s delicacy, nelum ala (lotus tubers), which were once thought to be free from toxicants, have turned out to be a killer because of the high concentration of persistent organic pollutants, which cause renal failure. Kidney diseases have assumed epidemic proportions in some parts of the country, especially in the North Central Province. They are spreading to other areas, too, as evident from the spate of appeals for kidney donations, in the press.
It cannot be that we lack laws to ensure effective food and drug regulation and environmental protection. The problem appears to be the absence of a strong commitment on the part of successive governments to give full cry to the existing laws in the public interest. It is time the country was prevented from moving towards a sick nation.