A pharmacy in Gardez stocks generic drugs. Patients and health practitioners are growing alarmed by the amount of poor-quality drugs smuggled into the province from Pakistan. (photo: Haqmal Masoodzai)
Pharmacy shelves in Paktia province are rife with expired and counterfeit medicine. The drugs are imported from Pakistan by privately owned pharmacies and large pharmaceutical firms competing for profit, say industry insiders.
Afghanistan Today visited the branch office of the Pakistani generic drug companies Sami Pharmaceutical (PvT), Hilton Pharma and Getz Pharma on Ghazni Road in Gardez. To compete for the Afghan market, such companies woo doctors and pharmacists with money, expensive gifts and trips abroad, said Mohammad Asef, who represents the companies in Gardez, the provincial capital.
Certain companies also smuggle low-quality medicine into Paktia and Khost provinces to maximize profits, while high-ranking officials at the Ministry of Public Health turn a blind eye to the issue, Asif added.
The Public Health Directorate (PHD) of Paktia Province shut down 20 pharmacies for stocking poor-quality drugs, said PHD co-director Gol Mohammad Deen. Some doctors accept bribes to prescribe them to patients, he added.
Most of the incriminated doctors are private practitioners and are not employed by the PHD, said current director Gul Mohammad Deen. Despite importing low-quality medicines, the Pakistani drug companies hold permits issued by the Ministry of Public Health, he added.
“When we visited these companies and doctors and questioned these practices, they denied their involvement,” Deen continued. “They said they receive bonuses and free trips because the company wants to motivate them to market their drugs.”
The absence of checkpoints on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border enables the smuggling of expired and counterfeit medicine into Kandahar, Khost and Paktia, which lack quality control centers and testing sites, said Doctor Baz Mohammad Sherzad, the former director of the PHD in Paktia Province. From there, the drugs are transported to central Afghanistan and disseminated throughout the country.
“We have shared this concern with authorities in the Public Health Ministry,” Sherzad added. “If we come across such companies in Paktia province, they will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”
Public health practitioners say the sale of poor-quality drugs has severely impacted the health of several patients. “The use of low-quality medicine causes a mistrust of doctors among the people,” said Sayed Shakur Kamran, a Paktia-based doctor.
Paktia residents are urging authorities to crack down on generic drug smuggling and prosecute perpetrators. “Most of the patients are going to Pakistan or India,” said Jawed, who lives in a rural area of the province, while escorting a patient to Gardez for medical treatment. “The medicine prescribed here is of very low quality, and Afghan doctors are unfairly discredited.”