September Issue 2008
There is a fast-growing concern that counterfeit medicines are being made and sold under the label of homeo-herbal medicine — an alternate to allopathic medicines.
All allopathic medicines are governed by the Drug Act of 1976. But for homeopathic or herbal medicines, no such legislation exists. A bill, patterned on the Drug Act, was designed for it, but it has been lying dormant in parliament for some years now. The bill states that all manufacturers of homeopathic or herbal medicines will firstly have to obtain a license, and secondly, build their factory on an industrial plot — as have all allopathic manufacturers — designated by the federal health ministry. Federal Secretary Health, Khushnood Lashari says it will be tabled in the next session. If this is passed, it will be a step in the direction of curtailing the counterfeit industry.
A former chairman of the PPMA (Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association), Kaiser Waheed says that people can make homeo-herbal medicines in their backyards and there is no law to check them. “Once the law is in place,” says Waheed, “you will know who is licensed to make what, and drug inspectors can keep a regular check on their activities.”
Current Chairman PPMA, Kaiser Sajjad maintains that legislation is also necessary because homeo-herbal medicine is introduced into the market without being tried or tested, and there is no guarantee of its quality or efficacy. In fact, he adds that the promoters play with the psyche and lives of the people by selling them cures for just about anything, be it weight loss, weight gain, height enhancement, skin or sex.
According to an official of the federal health ministry, traces of Viagra have been found in homeo-herbal drugs, specifically in what is known as unani (Greek) medicine. Says the federal official, “Even if somebody posseses 10 grams of it, he can produce a number of tablets. It is used in a very minute quantity — doses of 5mg, 2mg and 1mg — and the drug is effective even in its traces.” Viagra is not a licensed drug in Pakistan, although it is elsewhere in the world, so it is obviously smuggled into the country and any medicine with traces of it is considered spurious.
The use of steroids is also common in such medicines. Steroids too, like Viagra, are used in minute quantities, but are very effective. According to a doctor, steroids have an anti-inflammatory action, and when taken, seem to cure any ailment temporarily, establishing a sturdy clientele for that particular drug.
Like the homeopath or herbalist, quacks, too, have a big hand in the promotion of spurious medicines. All cities have small clinics in bastis, operated not by certified doctors but by technicians and nurses who work in hospitals by day, and play doctor in their own localities by night. The lack of free government healthcare drives many patients to such practitioners, saving them the cost of travelling to a hospital, located at a distance from where they live.
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.