IN THE past five years, 7,875 patients have died within 48 hours of being admitted at the Sher-i- Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the only super-speciality hospital in Jammu & Kashmir. If a recent exposé is to be believed, most of them could be victims of spurious drugs supplied by the state government’s health department.
The scam came to light when the state’s Drug and Food Control Department discovered that Maximizin- 625, an antibiotic that is administered within hours of surgery, was fake. The antibiotic, which was supplied to hospitals in the Valley last year by Jammu-based distributor Life Line Pharmaco, contained zero milligrams of Amoxicillin instead of 500 milligrams as claimed by the company.
Incidentally, the test was done last July, but the results were made public only last week, which means the antibiotic continued to be in circulation until then. Following random laboratory tests, around 43 drugs sold in the Valley were found to be either spurious or substandard.
The antibiotic Maximizin- 625 is manufactured by Himachal Pradesh-based Affy Parenterals and marketed by Mumbai-based Medley Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
Around two lakh tablets of the medicine, which doctors say is prescribed for post-operative care, were delivered to J&K government hospitals last year, including GB Pant Hospital in Srinagar and SKIMS. Almost half of the two lakh tablets have already been administered to patients in the Valley.
Incidentally, both GB Pant Hospital and SKIMS have experienced high mortality rates in recent years. Last year, GB Pant Hospital reported deaths of more than 636 children, while around 4,000 patients died at SKIMS.
“These statistics are worrying enough to raise a strong suspicion that patients are being treated with spurious drugs, considering the number of deaths occurring within 48 hours of admission,” says Dr Geer Mohammad Ishaq, a senior faculty at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir. “There are also genuine apprehensions that last year’s extraordinary number of deaths at the children hospital are attributable to spurious drugs in circulation.”
Medicines worth 50 crore are supplied annually to government hospitals in the Kashmir Valley, which is a tiny percentage of the Rs 1,000 crore drug market in J&K.
“If the government supplies substandard medicine to its own hospitals, who will stop the proliferation of these drugs in the market?” asks Dr Nisar-ul-Hassan, president of the Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK).
DAK has filed a PIL with the J&K High Court to seek an independent probe into the scandal. The association has, meanwhile, asked the doctors in the Valley not to prescribe hospital medicines to patients unless tested for quality. DAK has also sought a probe into former health minister Sham Lal Sharma’s involvement in the scam.
“We will treat all hospital medicines as spurious unless proven otherwise,” says Dr Hassan. “As it is the antibiotic cannot treat infections, which will progress to septicaemia and prove fatal for a patient. There is no telling how many patients must have expired in hospitals because of this drug.”
At a press conference in Srinagar on 15 April, Dr Hassan also displayed another fake drug, Curecef 1000 (Ceftriaxone Sodium), whose laboratory analysis showed the presence of particulate matter. “This is very dangerous to human life,” he said.
Dr Hassan also said that doctors will hit the streets to protest the scam. “We want heads to roll. We want the former health minister Sham Lal Sharma, who is now the public health engineering minister, and the purchase committee members, who gave the nod for the purchase of these medicines, to resign.”
Maximizin-625 was randomly picked up for testing from hospital supplies. Now, this has raised suspicions about the stock of medicines in government hospitals. “I have submitted a report to my seniors at the department about all the 43 drugs found to be substandard,” says Dr Reema Khatib, who works at a drug analysis laboratory in Srinagar.
This is not the first time that the Valley has made news for spurious drugs. Last year, noted cardiologist Dr Naresh Trehan termed Kashmir a hub of spurious medicines. “A single spurious drug can cost a life. The government should immediately intervene to stop it,” Dr Trehan had said while addressing a conference in the Valley.