‘No substandard drugs as certain media reported’ - Minister Sirisena

There has been much media coverage and reports about the problems of shortages of pharmaceutical drugs and about poor quality drugs used in the state sector hospitals during the recent past. The Nation interviewed Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Maithripala Sirisena about these reports

By our health Correspondent

Following are the highlights of the interview:

Q: During recent times there were many complaints and allegations made about shortages of medical drugs at government hospitals and about the poor quality of certain drugs imported by the supplies division of your ministry. How far could such views be true and what steps has ministry taken to stop and prevent such problems?
These allegations are not anything new. Over the past several years such things have been reported in the media at various times. But at present there are no shortages of drugs in the government hospitals and we do not import substandard drugs as made out in certain media reports. In the first instance, I should say that there is a committee of experts in the ministry who study and inspect all the pharmaceuticals and other related supplies to the public sector. We are responsible to ensure that the patients in the hospitals and those who call over at the OPDs and government dispensaries or clinics receive only standard drugs prescribed by the doctors. The experts in the public health sector recommend only pharmaceuticals that are up to international standards and no substandard drugs are imported by the ministry though such allegations could be made even by certain vested interests and those who wish to discredit the ministry and the government.

Q: There is also a view that pharmaceuticals manufactured in India are of inferior quality and that the government was deliberately ignoring the poor quality of Indian brands of medical drugs, thereby doing an injustice to the patients who seek treatment at the public sector hospitals and clinics etc.?
Such charges against the Health Ministry and the government were being made by some persons, even some in the media perhaps without a knowledge of the modern trends of pharmaceutical manufacture and their standards. India, in fact, is among the forefront manufacturing nations of the world. India is the third largest manufacturer and exporter of these products and she exports pharmaceuticals to a large number of countries not only in Asia. But, of course, India has the advantage of lower overheads in her manufacturing processes and has thus become very competitive in the world market. There is no truth in the view that Indian pharmaceuticals are of lower standards and no one truthfully say that the Health Ministry is importing inferior quality drugs for use in the government hospitals or dispensaries.
In fact, I visited India recently where I met the Indian Minister of Health and the officials of the Indian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. The Indian Health Minister assured me that exports of pharmaceuticals to Sri Lanka met the high international standards required for these products. He in fact told me that the government of India would not hesitate to cancel the manufacturing licence of any pharmaceutical manufacturer if any poor quality drugs were supplied to us. He said we could make any complaint if there was a problem like that and India would give high priority to investigate our complaints. As far as I could see we don’t have any problem with Indian pharmaceuticals and some mischief makers or those who were not aware that India has developed its pharmaceuticals up to modern standards may say Indian pharmaceuticals are substandard.

Q: However, there could be some instances when there were poor quality imports like the case of saline vials that were reported to be faulty, having holes in them. Do you agree such medical aides or equipment would harm the patients who are administered saline from such vials?

This again is another misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt at mischief by certain people. Every vial of saline needs to have a hole and there is nothing strange of wrong in it. To a layman such media reports could cause alarm but the media reports about the saline vials having holes were those done either with total ignorance or were deliberately brought before the public to create dissatisfaction with the services of the ministry which acts on the advice of senior medical experts and pharmacologists in the public sector.

Q: You have said that India is one of the foremost manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and has entered the area of modern technology in many areas. Is the government not encouraging the local manufacture of pharmaceuticals? At present how many are operating in this area?
The policy of the UPFA government is to encourage local entrepreneurship including the manufacture of pharmaceutical and other hospital supplies. At present the State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation is manufacturing 46 pharmaceuticals and our private sector is manufacturing 40 pharmaceuticals. In fact, SPMC is starting the manufacture of saline vials and by next year they have targeted to make 15,000 saline vials. Before I took over as minister SPMC could not even manufacture even 100 saline vials. Our aim is to encourage both the public and private sector to develop the production of pharmaceuticals here. During my visit to India the Indian pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association informed me that they would like to invest in their trade in Sri Lanka and they will visit us in the near future to discuss starting pharmaceutical manufacture here.