A report published in this newspaper reveals that the Drugs Control Ordinance 1982 under which medicine adulterators are tried is incomprehensive and inadequate. According to legal experts, the ordinance has provision for 10 years' imprisonment or financial penalty or both for manufacturing, importing, distributing and selling adulterated drugs but it says nothing in case of deaths or disabilities caused by adulterated drugs.
We welcome the verdict in the poisonous paracetamol case involving the death of at least 76 children, in which the Dhaka Drug Court pronounced a sentence of 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of Tk 4 lakh to each of the six offenders. Justice has finally been served, 23 years since the fatalities.
Counterfeiting or adulteration of medicines is a lucrative business due to low production costs and lack of regulation and accountability. It particularly grows in an environment where officials are bribable, health systems lax, standards not applied and consumers desperate. At least ten percent of medicines sold in pharmacies in Bangladesh are said to be counterfeit. To make matters worse, consumers and prescribers are often unable to assess the quality, safety and efficacy of pharmaceuticals.
The absence of deterrent legislation and its enforcement encourage counterfeiters. The government needs to promote intersectoral cooperation between manufacturing and wholesale industry associations, patient advocacy groups, health-care professionals, regulatory authorities and law enforcement agencies to oversee the drug market and enforce regulation.
With pharmaceutical sales likely to hit USD 2 billion by 2018, why should the misdeeds of a few be allowed to tarnish the credibility of a flourishing industry?