Deal severely with gang selling fake cancer medications : The Tribune India

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Deal severely with gang selling fake cancer medications

Centre must trace recipients of the spurious chemo medications and offer expert advice, aid, free medicines

Deal severely with gang selling fake cancer medications

Photo for representation. File photo



Pushpa Girimaji

The rapacity of those who sold fake medications used in chemotherapy to cancer patients across the country reminds me of the Michigan (United States) haematologist and oncologist Dr Farid Fata, who deliberately and falsely diagnosed hundreds of his patients with cancer and administered chemotherapy, inflicting severe mental and physical harm and injury. He has been sentenced to 45 years in jail. But the dozen members of a gang arrested by the Delhi Police last fortnight for selling fake cancer medications need to be dealt with more severely.

By filling the used empty vials of expensive cancer drugs of well-known companies with an anti-fungal medicine costing Rs 150 and selling these to cancer patients at Rs 2-3 lakh, the culprits not only played with the lives of cancer patients, but also robbed them of their precious money. Given the role of chemotherapy in curing cancer and the consequences of delaying the treatment, it is anybody’s guess as to how many of those to whom the fraudsters sold the medications have survived. For deliberately killing the patients’ chances of recovery and robbing them of their fundamental right to life, the gang of 12 (there may be more) deserves the maximum punishment under the law.

This is not the first haul of spurious drugs in the country, but what makes this so alarming is that this illicit trade has now graduated from manufacturing fake antacids, antibiotics and medicines for cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes to the most expensive of medications used for chemotherapy for a variety of cancers.

Even more shocking is the ease with which this gang — consisting of employees of oncology departments of private hospitals; pharmacists, including one who had work experience in a chemotherapy mixing unit; another one with expertise in medical transcription and management in oncology; a senior staff nurse at a chemotherapy daycare centre; a drug retailer and an owner of two medical tourism companies — sold their counterfeit medications across the country and to foreigners coming here for medical treatment as well, for years!

One of the victims traced by the police, a businessman from Madhubani in Bihar, said he bought (spurious) Keytruda, a cancer medication used in chemotherapy, in 2022 for his wife at a cost of Rs 3 lakh from the fraud firm. His wife was administered the drug during the last two rounds of her chemotherapy. She died that year. Another man from West Bengal has been the recipient of the same fake medication for six rounds of chemotherapy for liver cancer! One does not know yet the adverse effects of the antifungal medication administered to him as well as the consequences of delaying medication so urgently needed for his treatment. As investigations continue, more and more horror stories will emerge.

Given the nature and magnitude of the problem, the Union Ministry of Health must immediately constitute a coordination committee, comprising the police, the Central and state drug control authorities, oncologists and pharmaceutical companies’ representatives, to quickly trace all the recipients of the spurious chemotherapy medications and offer them expert medical advice and financial assistance, or free medication. After all, the states and the Centre have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the drugs sold in the country and prevent the manufacture and sale of spurious drugs. They also have a duty to uphold the citizens’ fundamental right to life and flowing from that, the right to health and safe medicines. The very fact that this racket has been going on since 2022 shows the complete failure of the regulatory mechanism to protect consumers!

Identifying the victims — there could be thousands of them — and getting their testimonies will also strengthen the prosecution’s case. Under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, where a spurious drug has caused death or is likely to cause grievous hurt, those found guilty will be liable to imprisonment of a minimum of 10 years, but it may extend to imprisonment for life and fine, which is not less than Rs 10 lakh or three times the value of the drugs confiscated. The law also provides that this fine shall be paid, by way of compensation, to the victims or their families.

The government should also seek adequate compensation from the perpetrators through a petition under the Consumer Protection Act. In fact, the ends of justice would be met only when all the victims are traced and duly compensated.

#Cancer #United States of America USA


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