KATHMANDU, Oct 3: Thirteen drug inspectors have to monitor more than 13,500 pharmacies operating legally across the country. Hundreds more pharmacies might be operating illegally in the remote districts and villages and the responsibility for curbing their activities also falls on those inspectors, the Department of Drug Administration (DDA) said.
Moreover, the latest DDA inspection report shows that free medicines supplied by the government are being sold in the market, vaccines are being stored without maintaining proper temperature levels, and unauthorized drugs are being sold by unauthorized individuals.
The DDA office is responsible for checking all such anomalies but the national drugs regulatory body is itself reeling under a severe manpower crunch.
“Apart from the inspection of pharmacies, we have to do the regular work at the office,” said Padam Poudel, a DDA drugs inspector. He said inspectors have to visit national and international pharmaceutical companies as well to monitor ongoing manufacturing practices and check for the quality of the drugs.
They have to prepare reports, take statements from pharmacists, and initiate legal action against any guilty parties.
However, the office has not filed any case against the guilty.
The office concedes that it is impossible to conduct inspections at all the pharmacies with the existing manpower. DDA said that drug inspectors working at its central office have monitored only 929 pharmacies in the last fiscal year. The regional offices have inspected an additional 500 or so pharmacies.
“We used to cover only the pharmacies in the big cities and at the headquarters of districts with easy access to transportation,” Poudel said adding, “We cannot say what is happening in the far-flung localities.”
“It is impossible to do anything more with the existing manpower,” said Bhupendra Bahadur Thapa, a drugs expert and former DDA director general. He said DDA must conduct inspections of all pharmacies, drugs companies, their products and the quality levels but due to lack of manpower they are doing only as much as they can.
“They set the target that can be attained by the existing manpower,” Thapa added. According to him, the government has given huge responsibilities to DDA but not the required manpower. No new post has been created since the past 33 years. Instead of creating additional posts, the government cut the jobs of 14 drug inspectors 19 years ago.
DDA sought an additional 150 employees 17 years back to meet its responsibilities. A master plan was also worked out to create additional posts, but to no avail.
Thapa said that if the master plan was anything to go by, employees would have been recruited 11 years ago. The office said that the ministry was persuaded to recruit employees in three phases.
“It seems the government will not become serious until there is a big mishap in the country,” Thapa said adding, “DDA has been given an impossible task and there is no accountability to be seen anywhere.”