Serious concerns have emerged regarding the quality of medicines in the country, as recent incidents highlight the potential dangers they pose.
Yesterday (16), a principal who had spent two months in the intensive care unit tragically passed away due to the fatal effects of anesthetic drugs. This marked the third reported death related to medication complications. Furthermore, more than twenty individuals have suffered from blindness caused by an imported drug from India used in liquid prednisolone, a medicine commonly prescribed after eye surgeries. Numerous others have also experienced eye complications.
In the midst of this grave situation, the chairman of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority has made a sudden decision to transfer all 22 pharmacists responsible for ensuring medicine quality to the Ministry of Health. Thushara Ranaweera, president of the Government Pharmacists Association, expressed his concerns about this move when speaking to Lankasara.
Ranaweera explained, “On May 28, during the General Assembly of the Association of Pharmacists, I was elected as the president. At that time, I was working as a pharmacist in the quality control laboratory of the National Drug Regulatory Authority. On June 8, I received a letter from the authority’s chairman, informing me that I was relieved of my duties and requesting me to hand over my belongings. However, the letter did not specify my new assignment, while the other 22 pharmacists were released on the 12th. Later, we discovered that we had been transferred to the Ministry of Health without any explanation.”
He further added, “We suspect that this transfer is an attempt to remove a group of pharmacists who oppose the illegal activities conducted within the institution. By transferring us and retaining their loyalists, it becomes easier for such illicit practices to persist. Hence, it appears that the Ministry of Health has orchestrated our release.”
Another released pharmacist, who wished to remain anonymous, disclosed, “The institution’s administration is deliberately transferring experienced and knowledgeable pharmacists from the National Drug Regulatory Authority’s quality control laboratory to other institutions. Our group has been vocal against the importation and distribution of substandard medicines in Sri Lanka. While we occasionally turned a blind eye and supplied certain medicines to hospitals, we are obstacles to their fraudulent activities. That is why we were transferred. This situation is alarming, as it puts the lives of the general public, including our loved ones, at risk of consuming poison instead of proper medication.”
Pharmacists argue that, typically, those working in quality control laboratories have received specialized training abroad to ensure competency. However, most of the experienced officers with foreign training have been transferred, and instead, ten pharmacists with only one year of local training, lacking foreign expertise, have been employed.
The Pharmacists’ Union also highlights a significant shortage of staff in the National Drug Regulatory Authority. According to their assessment, there should be 137 pharmacists, but only 26 are currently employed. In the pharmaceutical quality control laboratories, where 60 pharmacists are necessary, only 10 are currently serving. The association emphasizes that this group lacks foreign expert training and has relied on knowledge passed down by senior pharmacists who were transferred to the Ministry of Health.