Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Manobkontho reports on substandard Vitamin A Capsules (09.03.2013)

The government of Bangladesh has taken the decision to go ahead with bringing 2.5 crore children under the umbrella of the Vitamin A plus campaign in spite of concerns raised by the World Health Organization. The Ministry of Health and family welfare has taken the decision to carry out the campaign on the 12th of March after rescheduling the campaign 3 times.

Sources have said that this delay was to facilitate testing to prove that the Indian manufactured capsules were ‘not harmful’ for human use. An Indian organization wasn’t able to fully provide assurances that such capsules, about which concerns were raised by the WHO, were safe. Finally, these capsules were released to be used in the campaign after an analysis report from Singapore. It is mentionable that the vitamin A plus campaign also includes administration of a tablet of de-worming agent Albendazole.

Sources have further said that the government purchased 10 crore pieces of the capsules from the controversial Indian company called Olive Health care to provide vitamin A doses to children aged 0-5 years throughout the country.  However, the WHO raised concern over the quality of the capsules, citing health concerns. After such concerns were raised, an Indian company called SGS India Pvt Ltd was given the responsibility to test these capsules. Even though they did not raise any product quality concerns, questions were raised regarding their methods of testing. That was the time when the Ministry of Health rescheduled the campaign for the first time. Then, on the instructions of the Health Minister Dr. A.F.M Ruhul Hoq, samples were sent to a Singaporean laboratory.
Sources have also informed that 2 batches of Vitamin A capsules purchased three years ago from Canadian pharmaceutical company Banner Pharma remained unused. Of this, 1,57,50,000 capsules remained from a batch of 2 lakh I.U. capsules, while another batch of 1 lakh I.U. contained around 12,00,000 capsules. These two batches are set to expire in April 2013. Throughout the country, the demand for 2 lakh I.U. capsules is 2 crore pieces while the demand for 1 lakh I.U. capsules is 30 lakh pieces. Based on this calculation, the difference lies at 42 lakh and 18 lakh pieces respectively. The sources said that concerns about the quality of the Olive Healthcare Vitamin A capsules lead to rescheduling the campaign twice, once on the 2nd and next times on the 6th of February. It is notable that these will be the same capsules that are going to be administered to the children on the 12th of March.

Allegations have surfaced of corrupt officials at the Directorate of Health vehemently campaigning on behalf of the products of the controversial organization, Olive Health care. In this regard, critics have also questioned the silence of the Health Minister. The allegations raised include fact that Olive Healthcare is not part of any list of pharmaceutical product suppliers compiled by the WHO, nor has it marketed its products even inside India, let alone export any overseas.

Asked in this connection, Dr. Ekhlasur Rahman, Director of Institute of Public Health Nutition (IPHN) said that the organization (Olive Halthcare) would be responsible only for the supply of Vitamin A capsules in the campaign. The whole operation was under the supervision of the Health Ministry responsible for administration and the CMSD who was responsible for the purchase of the product. Dr. Rahman further added that although he was aware of the matter, he did not want to comment on the quality issues surrounding the Vitamin A capsules from Olive Healthcare due to undergoing tests to determine its safety. 

Manobkonto further reported that Central Medical Stores Depot (CMSD) Director Brigadier General Syed Iftekhar Uddin did not receive the news team when they went to his office premises. On the other hand, Health Minister Dr. A.F.M Ruhul Hoq did not receive nor return calls and hence was unavailable to comment on the issue

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