Not much regulation
The death toll, and this is the notoriously conservative government estimate, has risen to 73. It is expected to go much higher. Things aren’t going to simmer down any time soon. The media is up in faux-outrage, fully cognisant of the fact that the mysterious (at least initially) disease, one that was later found to be the result of corporate greed, is the stuff of dream ratings. And the chief minister has responded to the crisis with the only tool he has in his one-weapon arsenal: he axed the MS of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology.
The unbearable plight of the families of the victims is there for all to see. Years’ worth of savings are eaten into at times of major medical procedures. Not for one moment, even during times of financial plight, does the prospect of this expenditure actually causing the demise of their loved ones, rather preventing it, rear its head.
In the blame game that has followed the incident, the easiest target, as usual, is the political government. Public discourse is what it is and the Punjab government should be held accountable even if the incident isn’t of its own making; after all, the League doesn’t show other parties a mature aversion to political point-scoring when it comes to unavoidable tragedies elsewhere.
There is a scuffle at the moment about where the immediate fault should be pinned on. The suspects: the political government, the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors. There is also a smattering of those who actually blame the patients’ families for not being more “careful.”
There are sectors in the country that are under-regulated. Health isn’t one of them, if one considers the number of laws and regulations that pertain to the sector. But a lax attitude towards the enforcement of these regulations means the sector is functionally under-regulated. How could drugs be sold so freely that did not even have expiry dates printed on them? At the various stages of this happening i.e. the manufacturing, the stocking, the sale, the use in the hospitals, why weren’t there any regulatory checks at any stage?
Most of the regulations in the health sector are completed for formality’s sake. Whether it is simply getting a pharmacist to sign up for a pharmacy or getting a drug inspector to observe a batch of drugs. And this state of affairs isn’t limited to the Punjab either but extends to the whole country. Nowhere is the need for a complete overhaul felt more than in the health sector.