Why was Dr Riazuddin labelled a thief for helping Pakistan?
Interferon is a drug of choice for hepatitis C and a large number of people are using it. Hepatitis C has been spreading like an epidemic in Pakistan due to several reasons, some of which include unhygienic water supplied by municipal organisations, using contaminated surgical blades by barbers and unsafe sexual practices.
Due to poor financial conditions of the Pakistani people and a soaring increase in the prices of commodities almost on a daily basis, it is becoming next to impossible for the common man to purchase quality medicines. In such a situation, the country must provide alternatives to its people by providing cheap but effective medicines.
This can only be possible if we start producing drugs and their raw materials locally, which we have not done since the creation of Pakistan. Still relying on raw materials provided by India and China, we pay for material which becomes costly whence taxed and imported on reaching Pakistan.
For industries, the pragmatic stance would be to give preference to cheap raw material to maintain a high profit margin.
Unfortunately, our universities have produced a number of PhDs but their research is not related to the problems of the local industries or the common people of Pakistan. Due to this, a large number of renowned educationalists and academicians are critical of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) policy of investing billions of rupees and producing nothing concrete in return.
A few days ago, I came across a daily newspaper that stated that the former director of the Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) of the Centre of Applied Molecular Biology (CAMB), Dr Riazuddin, had developed a low cost interferon injection used to cure hepatitis C and proposed to sell it for Rs70 per injection – almost 100% below the prevailing market price.
However, the Ministry of Science and Technology, instead of encouraging, microbiologist Dr Sheikh Riazuddin for manufacturing a quality drug like interferon at a low cost, initiated an inquiry against him through the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Not only was his name put on the Exit Control List (ECL), an unjust inquiry had also been initiated against him by the Ministry of Health. These people were backed by power full multinational companies, importing expensive interferon from abroad hence, making billions of rupees from the poor people of this country.
Irfan Nadeem, former secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology was the unfortunate culprit behind the entire scam. Having misguided the National Assembly Standing Committee on Health on the subject, he was successful in getting the drug banned. Concurrently, he lay undue charges of embezzlement of funds and use of government funds for personal gains against Dr Riazuddin.
Unfortunately for him and those partnering with him, the FIA cleared Dr Riaz of all charges and submitted a report in favour of Dr Riaz instead, concluding the inquiry. On the flip side, the FIA has now recommended an initiation of a separate enquiry into the loss of 100,000 interferon injections worth of Rs7 million, as well as the loss of raw material relating to interferon worth of Rs1 million.
This is the crux of problems with the scientific industry in Pakistan. At any point that a Pakistani scientist tries to initiate a research project that may actually prove to be beneficial to the poorer people of this country, the darker vested interests prop up to bulldoze any such ventures. This was not the first time a Pakistani scientist was belittled and ridiculed for having done remarkably well in their field of practice. Corrupt bureaucrats of this nation are ever ready to present these able minds with the same fate presented to Dr Riazuddin. This industry fails to flourish, and this is due to the undue influence from bureaucrats who are heavily bribed by multinational companies that are bent on discouraging local production for anything that may cause a dent in their profit margins.
Dr Riaz should be honoured and not disgraced for his efforts for this country, but instead we allow him to be ridiculed? Why would any local scientist want to work for the benefit of the country if every time they try, they know they will be labelled thieves?
Only when Pakistan stands up against these corrupt individuals and makes an example of them, by sentencing them to life imprisonment for mutiny against the country, will the local industries in Pakistan start flourishing. Statistics provide that Pakistan imports Rs4 billion worth of interferon every year. The multinational pharmaceutical companies involved in monopolising the market should be heavily fined and even banned from entering the Pakistani market.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.