The Punjab Assembly had passed the Drug Act 1976 on February 8, 2017 according to which the sale of medical drugs which are below the acceptable standards will be punishable by imprisonment ranging from 6 months to 5 years and also a fine of Rs 1 to 5 million.
Moreover, if a qualified person is not available, then a fine of Rs 500,000 to 5,000,000 could be imposed as well as imprisonment from 30 days to five years.
Under the amendment, a chemist would be arrested if any spurious, substandard or expired drug was found in their stores.
He will not be able to obtain a bail for six months. Under the Punjab Drug Act 2017, it is mandatory for a certified pharmacist to be present in medical stores.
It is pertinent to mention that according to the amendments, the sellers of substandard medicines would be awarded a punishment of five years in jail with a fine of Rs1 million, the sellers of fake medicines would undergo a five-year imprisonment and would have to pay Rs50 million as fine while those found selling medicines without a license would get 10 years in jail and would have to pay a fine worth Rs100 million.
Pharmacies and drug stores in the city announced a protest and a strike against the Punjab Drug Act 2017, in the provincial capital and other areas of the province, on Thursday 26 April.
Medical store owners across Punjab observed a shutter-down strike during the protest, making it increasingly difficult for citizens to purchase medicines.
Shop owners in Lahore, Multan and many other cities took part in the strike. In Faisalabad, patients were severely handicapped due to the unavailability of medicines after the chemist and drug association launched the strike. Pharmacies and stores in Kundiyan, Chasma, Pipla, And another cities also participated in the protest along with the district.
Some of the medical stores remained open in different localities but they were selling medicines in fear and panic .Muhammad Mukhtar Abbasi, a relative of a patient told me that his mother was admitted in Benazir Bhutto Hospital. “He wants to buy some necessary medicines but could not do so due to strike,” he denounced.
Some black sheep are trying to degrade the law and most of the chemist community did not fulfill national responsibility. In this severe situation, patients have been facing difficulties since past few days in getting medicines as pharmacies in different areas of the city remained closed.
“The token strike and the protest was the first step to stop the Punjab government from introducing laws which do not exist in Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Islamabad and even in any other part of the world,” Malik Arshad Awan, the president of Pakistan Chemist and Druggist Association’s Rawalpindi chapter.
“There is no substandard medicine available in any shop and the government knows it,” he added.
“In 2016, the government collected 68,000 samples from chemist shops across the province and only 27 of them were found spurious. All the Chemists and pharmaceutical industry are not involved in such a business but the government suspects all of them.
Under the proposed amendment, the government was going to take action against those chemists so that they could be forced to wind up their business.
“The chief minister is acting on the advice of some people who want to introduce their franchises in the province after shutting the business of local manufacturers and drug store owners,
On the other hand, the residents of the city criticised the token strike by the chemists and said after doctors it was now the turn of chemists to go on strikes, creating problems for the citizens.
The government should strictly implement the law to apprehend all those found involved in selling spurious drugs playing with the lives of the citizens.
While a large number of patients were left distraught due to the strike, the medical stores and pharmacies inside public and private hospitals and a few outside the Mayo hospital, Ganga Ram hospital, Services hospital and Jinnah hospital remained open throughout the day.
According to the details, the PPMA and 12 other organisations called a strike against the amendments to the Punjab Drugs Act 1976 which were introduced last year. To record their protest, a large number of activists belonging to the PPMA, the Pakistan Young Pharmacist Association (PYPA), Associations of Pharmaceutical Distributors, wholesalers, pharmacists, chain pharmacies, medicine manufacturers, dealers and retailers gathered outside the Lahore Press Club.
They chanted slogans against the government, and called the new drugs act their “economic victimisation”.
Pharma-Industry was not consulted when the amendments were being made to the drugs act which was a humiliating step. The Drugs Act 1976 was passed by the federal government and it was a federal subject, so all the amendments should be made by the federal government.
Punjab government would have been taken key stakeholders on board regarding the amendments in the draft of Drug Act 1976 and Drug regulatory Act 2012. Arshad said that earlier provincial government had formed a committee comprising provincial ministers to resolve the issue and amendments were made in the Drug Act, 2017 with the consultation of pharmaceutical traders.
The government had promised the traders that new act prepared in consultation with traders would be passed by the provincial assembly but it did not do so. The pharma industry was not against amendments however there should be rationale and the local industry must be protected.
The elements involved in manufacture and sale of spurious medicines were enemies of humanity and should be awarded deterrent punishment.
President of Pakistan Chemists and Druggists Association (Rawalpindi Chapter), Arshad Mehmood Awan told that all factories and medical stores would remain closed and the protest would continue till withdrawal of the ‘cruel’ changes made in the 1976 Drug Act. If Punjab government fails to resolve their issues, they would come on roads along with their families, he warned.
Typical chemists are not drug experts and actually want to eat the whole profit but pharmacists are the medical professionals who have specialisation in drugs. Pharmacists are basically the persons who can impart all knowledge about a drug rather than a chemist .If pharmacists are hired as prescribers as doctors are selected for diagnostic responsibilities then every tussle can be sorted out but first of all accept others as per their duties and privileges. Chemists’ mafia should be punished surely but rules can be a little lenient. It is the matter of humanity and era of professionalism has started.
Pharmacists are under-paid and no due respect and recognition is given whereas in Western World they have more worth. The major problem is the only the recognition of pharmacists have not achieved a standard in our society which is only possible through community and professional awareness but pharmacists are also doing wrong by renting out their categories which is against Drug Act and is punishable act. When they would have equal rights regarding their profession then the problems will wipeout automatically.
Drug Act 2017 should be implemented but by taking all into confidence without any compromise.Government should streamline the affairs and provide medicines to patients at government hospitals with appointment of required professionals and improve the quality of medicines by introducing stricter laws but step by step.
Dr. Zeeshan Khan is medical doctor by profession and a content writer, freelance writer and a poet. He is a motivational speaker and columnist and has written for a number of English dailies like Dawn, Express Tribune,The Business and The Educationist etc.He is also Alumni of LUMS and Doctor At CMH Hospital