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India urged to prevent racketeers from misusing its credit line to import substandard drugs to Lanka

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) yesterday (13) pointed out that India couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the alleged supply of low quality Indian medicines to Sri Lanka under the USD 1 bn credit line opened over a year ago. GMOF President Dr. Rukshan Bellana said so, referring to the third death due to low quality drugs reported on Wednesday (12) from the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital.

“We appreciate the Indian credit line that allowed Sri Lanka to procure a range of urgently needed medicines at a time when the government was not able to meet the basic requirements of the public but there cannot be an excuse for deaths and complications caused by Indian medicines,” Dr. Bellana said.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that he sincerely hoped the government would take up this matter at the highest level. Pointing out that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was scheduled to visit New Delhi soon, Dr. Bellana said that the President should take up the issue without any further delay.

The first death caused by substandard drugs was reported from the Peradeniya Hospital on June 16. Dr. Bellana said that many had expressed concern about the death of a patient at the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital who died after being given the Indian-manufactured anaesthetic Bupivacaine.

Dr. Bellana said trouble had started in May 2023, when those who had been administered Indian medicines after eye surgery at the Nuwara Eliya hospital complained about visual impairment. The doctors cited the “presence of germs” in the eye medication as a reason for their patients’ condition. Health authorities initiated an inquiry and withdrew the drug.

Dr. Bellana said that Transparency International Sri Lanka had filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court, challenging the decision of the Cabinet and health authorities to procure drugs from unregistered suppliers.

The petition has further questioned the national drug regulator’s role in providing a waiver of registration to allow for the swift import of essential drugs. Gujarat-based Savorite Pharmaceuticals (Pvt) Limited and Chennai-based Kausikh Therapeutics have been named as respondents. Early in April this year the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed in the case and suspended imports from these companies.

Dr. Bellana, who is the Deputy Director of the National Hospital, Colombo, said that perhaps the World Health Organization (WHO), too, could look into the issue. According to him, leading Indian media groups have addressed the controversy over the quality of Indian medicine as well as the continuing shortage of essential medicines and equipment.

Dr. Bellana said that he intended to seek a meeting with Indian High Commission authorities to make representations. He asked whether corrupt elements (local agents) here with the help of interested parties in India were making money at the expense of a bankrupt country. Dr. Bellana Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena owed an explanation to the public.

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