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Thousands of illegal pharmacies doing big business - EDITORIAL

20 June 2014 04:41 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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ne of the dangerous scandals or the biggest farce in the health sector – which has boomcd into big business, is the little-known fact about pharmacies. There are about 3,500 registered or legal pharmacies in Sri Lanka, but the poisoned pill is that there are at least 5,000 if not more private pharmacies which are functioning illegally without the presence of a qualified pharmacist. What does this mean to the innocent unsuspecting patients? It means there is a strong possibility that the pharmacy sales people – who know little about medicinal drugs and less English, may give patients the wrong drugs, resulting in complications which sometimes could be fatal.






This shocking disclosure was made on television on Tuesday by Ajith Tillekaratne. Secretary of the Society of Government Pharmacists. He was being interviewed by parliamentarian and economist Dr. Harsha de Silva on the proposed bill to set up a National Medicinal Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Regulatory Authority. As Prof. Carlo Fonseka, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, had said on this programme last Tuesday, Mr. Thillekaratne had also agreed, the proposed bill was seriously flawed and a distortion of Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept.
According to the Secretary of the Government Pharmacists’ Society, the mushrooming of pharmacies began after Prof. Bibile’s concept was scrapped in 1976 under pressure and threats from the United States Government and powerful trans-national pharmaceutical companies.
There was little or no monitoring or regulation after that. Some pharmacies obtained registration legally,  others started business illegally. Most of the illegal pharmacies are known to have bought pharmacists’ certificates from retired pharmacists or others. These certificates are framed and displayed in the pharmacy, but no pharmacist is present there. It is as dangerous as a dispensary without a medical doctor with a nurse trying to diagnose the disease. If that were so, nobody would go to that dispensary. But that is what is happening in thousands of illegal pharmacies and thousands of patients go there without knowing the danger, such as the case where a sales person, apparently    unable to read the foul-scratches of the medical doctor, had given a disinfectant instead of the cough syrup prescribed for the child. What happened to the child’s throat was unspeakable.
In the early 1980s the law was changed to make food inspectors as the monitoring agents for pharmacies. These food inspectors know little about medicinal drugs or the conditions that need to be maintained in pharmacies, such as air conditioning and proper storage of drugs. When the food inspectors visit pharmacies, they casually look around the pharmacy and give a certificate of approval after allegedly pocketing a bribe that is  kept under the cash counter. Again those who suffer from this maladministration and corruption are the innocent patients.
For several years, the Consumer Affairs Authority has been threatening to impose price control on drugs because prices are increased every week if not every day, and whether the value of the rupee goes up or down. The CAA has also given orders that pharmacies should prominently display lists of drugs and prices. But  this is somewhat of a joke because with 10,000 to 15,000 medicinal drugs in the market and at least 7,000 pharmacies doing big business there is no control but deadly chaos at the expense if not the good health or even the lives of millions of patients.
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