November 10, 2004, Hindustan Times

Subhendu Maiti

THE WORLD Health Organisation (WHO) is not convinced the standard drugs administered and sold to patients in Bengal’s government hospitals are safe and always correctly priced.

In the first such instance in India, WHO’s New Delhi-based Southeast Asia regional office has told the state health directorate to check the quality and pricing of drugs available in government medical colleges and hospitals as also in retail stores in their neighborhood. It was told the state to send its report to Delhi by the year-end.

The move has been prompted by allegations that some state hospitals are administering substandard drugs to patients.

In a parallel move, the world health body has engaged two NGOs – Community Development Medicinal Unit (CDMU) and Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) – to collect data relating to availability and prices of drugs sold in government hospitals and retail shops near such hospitals.

Health directorate officials confirmed that samples of common drugs of about 30 different groups, including antibiotics, paracetamol and anti-retroviral, cardiovascular, anti-malaria and anti-asthma drugs would be tested in a state-run laboratory.

Samples would be collected from about 15 hospitals, including SSKM, R. G. Kar, Sambhunath Pandit and the state general hospitals in West Midnapore, South 24-Parganas, Jalpaiguri and Murshidabad. In fact, collection of drugs has already begun at SSKM and several district hospitals, they said.

SSKM super Santanu Tripathi, a coordinator of the WHO project in Bengal, told HT, “We have already started work in various hospitals, including SSKM.”

Dr Abhijit Hazra of CDMU, one of the two NGOs engaged by WHO, said, “There are allegations that low-cost drugs available in government health Centres are substandard. In view of such complaints, we are conducting surveys to check the quality of drugs and their price. We have collected data from hospitals in six districts.”