The furore over the acquittal of the accused in the Rid Pharma paracetamol syrup case is not for nothing. It is not the 'not guilty' verdict that is in question. In fact the flaws left rather deliberately by the investigating officers in instituting the case, as pointed out categorically by the judge of the Dhaka drug court during delivery of the verdict, have enraged the people. How painful and unbearable this proves to parents of the children who fell victim to the toxic paracetamol is difficult to fathom. Justice was denied to them by the wilful mishandling of the case.
The judge has observed, " Shafiqul Islam did not follow proper procedure in filing the seizure list and results from the chemical tests". Shafiqul Islam, then one of the two drug superintendents responsible for filing the case on investigation, knowingly violated due procedures of law. The court commented on the duo's sheer negligence, inefficiency and incompetence.
Unsurprisingly the two drug superintendents have been rewarded with promotion. Reportedly, one now holds the position of an assistant director and the other a deputy director respectively of the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA). The court's caustic remark on their role in the probe and the subsequent institution of the case is not just a reflection on their inept handling of this vital issue involving life and death of children but something well beyond the grey areas of facts and fiction.
How is that Prof Mohammad Hanif of Dhaka Sishu Hospital who first suspected the drug for the abnormal number of renal failures of children was not made a witness in the case? He handed over samples of Temset suspension (paracetamol syrup) and Ridaplex Syrup (vitamin-B complex), the two drugs in question to the director of the hospital and later on the drug superintendents got hold of it.
Intriguingly, though, the superintendents then did not follow due procedures to make a seizure list. Neither did they visit Rid Pharmaceuticals to confirm that the drugs had been produced by it nor did they collect two more samples of the same in order to comply with the procedures. At this point the court notes, "..it appears that the procedures were violated directly and knowingly."
The avoidance of mention of the presence of diethylene glycol, as found by a seven-member committee formed by the government then, in the paracematol produced by Rid Pharmaceuticals is also suspect. The report found that the company obtained licence for producing paracetamol suspension but instead it produced paracetamol syrup. Even more dreadful is the fact that it used diethylene glycol instead of propylene glycol for manufacture of the drug. Diethylene glycol is used in tannery and battery industries.
After about two years charge-sheets were submitted and the case has drawn so long for judgment. The legal lacunas deliberately left open have been instrumental in obtaining a decision in favour of the accused whose indiscretion in manufacture of hazardous drugs for children took away no fewer than 28 lives in a short time in 2009.
Now this will be a very bad example if the accused get scot-free for their crime. In this connection, it would be fitting to pursue the case in higher court and the officials who were responsible for framing such a weak case should as well be taken to task. It seems they have acted in favour of the owners and executives of Rid Pharmaceuticals either wilfully or by default. A review of the case on the basis of the government probe of that time may be in order.
If the DGDA officials failed to follow due procedures, they should be held accountable for it. Why should they be let go on their words that they did not do the necessary home work. This very court sentenced six officials of BCI Pharma to 10 ten years of imprisonment in 1992 for the death of 76 children following consumption of its adulterated paracetamol syrup. Similarly three officials, including managing director and manager of Adfame Pharmaceuticals were also sentenced to 10 years behind bar on a similar accusation. Now no ploy should spare those who have actually been instrumental in acquittal of the accused in the 2009 Rid Pharma case.
Manufacture of spurious and substandard drugs is a recurrent problem in this country. When pharmaceutical companies fail to comply with the best of practices in manufacturing drugs, they are not only committing a crime but also posing grave threat to human lives. So this verdict, although delivered on the basis of a poorly framed case, is likely to encourage dishonest drug manufacturers to go about their business with renewed vigour. To discourage them, let the case be reviewed in higher courts in order to establish the missing links and get the real culprits punished. The country has proved its potential in manufacturing quality medicine so much so that products from a few pharmaceuticals are now being exported to foreign countries including the United States of America.
Against the backdrop of such a positive development, any slight oversight leading to an environment where manufacturers of spurious or substandard drugs feel encouraged will go against the industry, the country and its people.