Nothing short of blackmail
THE countrywide 12-hour strike that medicine traders observed on Thursday, in protest at the recent raids by the drug administration and law enforcement agencies, and seizure of counterfeit and substandard medicines worth Tk 5 crore, was nothing short of blackmail. According to a report published in New Age on Friday, the strike, enforced by the Bangladesh Chemists and Druggists Association, was meant to put pressure on the authorities to release 20 medicine wholesalers each sentenced to one-year imprisonment and reopen 28 wholesale stores sealed off during a drive on September 28, jointly conducted by the Drug Administration, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution. The deputy secretary of the association was quoted in the report as saying that the medicine traders would convene a meeting on October 8 to decide their next programme if the administration did not meet their eight-point demand, which was submitted to the director general of the Drug Administration.
Suffice to say, the stance that the medicine traders have taken is unethical and unlawful since they are essentially trying to protect people who have long been dealing in counterfeit and substandard medicines, exposing a significant section of society to serious health hazards. Worse still, to press home their unethical and unlawful demands, they simply held the public hostage, exposing especially those in urgent need of medicine to serious threat to their well-being. Simply put, they have been at fault two times over. Infuriatingly still, their tact seems to have had a reasonable success, so suggests the association president’s claim that the Drug Administration director general ‘has assured us that the detained medicine traders would be released and sealed shops would be opened.’
Trade in counterfeit and substandard medicines is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh, nor is it limited to one particular part of the capital city. In recent years, there has been a consistent stream of media reports that many questionable pharmaceutical companies actually thrive on counterfeit and substandard medicines. Not long ago, 30-odd children died after taking syrup manufactured by a local company. Upon investigation, it was found that the syrup contained elements that were not supposed to be there in the first place. Meanwhile, the Drug Administration has often appeared incapable of even containing, let alone eradicating, production and sale of counterfeit and substandard medicines, thanks to its perennial manpower and logistic inadequacies, which seems to have only emboldened these unscrupulous medicine manufacturers and traders to carry on with their deadly trade, that too, with an apparent sense of impunity.
If the association of medicine traders are allowed to have things their way, the guilty wholesalers are released and the sealed-off stores reopened, it would set a dangerous precedent and the trade of substandard and counterfeit medicines would strike back with further intensity. It is thus imperative for the authorities to stand their ground and not entertain the unethical and unlawful demands of the medicine traders.
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