Death merchants

Use of contaminated intravenous fluids has resulted in the death of 18 women over the past month in two government hospitals in Jodhpur. The victims had been put on drip post-delivery and they developed complications, which then led to their death.
Intravenous fluid samples taken from the hospitals have tested positive for bacterial endotoxins. Legal action is being taken against the Indore-based drug manufacturer, Parental Surgical (India) Ltd. Distribution of medicines by this manufacturer have been banned. Jodhpur’s unfortunate experience is not an isolated one in India. There are innumerable instances of patients being administered contaminated blood, glucose and other intravenous fluids, or medicines that have crossed their expiry date. The repeated use of soiled bandages, disposable syringes and contaminated needles is widespread in the country. It has taken a ghastly tragedy to draw the attention of authorities to the problem. Will they act on it?

It is said that roughly 10 per cent of the medicines available in the market are counterfeit, contaminated or substandard. Profits are huge in the trade. This is a massive racket that involves not just illicit manufacturers but a long chain that includes distributors and then, of course, the shops and hospitals through which these spurious medicines are pushed. It is alleged that pharmacists selling counterfeit drugs profit from doing so. If manufactures are able to push their contaminated drugs easily, it is because hospital authorities are not vigilant. They prefer to purchase medicines from those who grease their palms rather than trusted manufacturers. The problem of contaminated medicines is not one that is confined to allopathic medicines. Testing of some samples of ayurvedic or homeopathic medicines has revealed presence of toxic metal.

Indian pharmaceutical companies export medicines to Africa and Latin America. Therefore, the manufacture of substandard drugs and contaminated fluids poses a grave public health threat that extends far beyond India’s borders. Stern action against those responsible for Jodhpur tragedy is welcome. But it must not stop there. The government must act against other manufacturers of counterfeit and contaminated medicines. The crime they are engaging in is not a minor one. It cannot be brushed aside as mere negligence as they are causing the death of people. They cannot be allowed to play with people’s lives. It is undermining the legitimacy of our medical system.

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