19th August 2001
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Train tragedy: the body of a woman who was 
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Beware! Bogus drugs in pharmacies

By Faraza Farook
A crisis over the unchecked import of some 10,000 medicinal drugs to Sri Lanka has taken an alarming turn with the busting of a racket where traders had smuggled in and sold fake drugs worth millions to unsuspecting patients.

After the discovery that scores of pharmacies were selling counterfeit drugs made of useless substances, Drug Regulatory Authority spokesman Dr. Ajith Mendis called on patients to ensure that they bought their drugs from registered pharmacies and also to check the expiry date and obtain a bill so that they could take action if necessary.

He said strict new laws to crack down on illegal pharmacies would be enforced from next month. Every pharmacy would be required to display along with its licence the photograph of the qualified pharmacist working there.

If that was not done, patients should not buy drugs from there and the Health Ministry would act to shut down such pharmacies.

The deadly racket in the smuggling and sale of critical or essential drugs in counterfeit and cheap forms was busted when Drug Regulatory officials raided a bogus drug store in a Colombo supermarket complex.

Two men involved in the racket were produced in a court and fined on Friday. Officials of the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) and the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) said that in one of the largest detections of the smuggling of fake and dangerous medicinal drugs, they had confiscated some Rs. 5 million worth of drugs.

Investigations revealed the two men had smuggled in counterfeit medicinal drugs for about five years. Among the 68 bags of drugs found in their illegal stores were abortion-inducing drugs, which came in tablets and vials, drugs to treat diabetes, malaria and other ailments.

Narcotics Bureau Inspector H. A. Tennakoon said the illegal trade was well networked with dealers, suppliers and customs officials believed to be involved in the racket. The drugs were mainly from suppliers in Pakistan and India and were known to be brought in mainly by Indian or Pakistani smugglers.

Food and Drugs Inspector P. Madarasinghe said they had found about 20 unregistered drugs in the illegal consignment including fancidar, which is widely used for treatment of malaria.

"Only the Health Ministry has the license to import this drug and private practitioners wanting it have to obtain it from the MOH office," he said. At least 9600 tablets of this particular drug had been brought in.

He said that despite warnings issued to pharmacies that counterfeit drugs may pose serious health risks to patients, many pharmacies bought them.

Mr. Madarasinghe said such counterfeit drugs raided from pharmacies island wide last year totalled to Rs. 4 million. "Pharmacies hide these in a secure place - either under the cupboard or behind some other stocks. The low prices are an incentive for pharmacies to purchase such counterfeit drugs," he said.

While health authorities can quickly discover the difference between the original and fake drugs, patients are often misled by the resemblance. The packaging is so cleverly done that the counterfeit closely resembles the genuine drug. The counterfeit drugs produced and packaged to look like the original product, pose a threat to the general public because of their poor quality. These items often contain flour instead of an active ingredient or may have been produced in an inferior environment and they are not stored at the required temperature levels which are vital in determining its efficacy and shelf life. Moreover, expired drugs are relabelled or the expiry date altered and marketed by traders.

To accommodate a large quantity, traders heap into one bag the drugs, free of any packaging or outer cover. Until the time of dispatch to retail outlets/pharmacies these drugs remain without their packing. Thus, during transportation and storage, the drugs lose their efficacy with moisture getting in. These drugs when prescribed would therefore show little or no improvement to the patient's health and would also result in misleading the doctor.

"Even if the doctor diagnoses and prescribes the drug, it wouldn't work and the patient would gradually develop resistance," Dr. Mendis said. This would lead to patients opting to take treatment elsewhere or the doctor prescribing a higher dosage or a different drug.

Prima triggers flour controversy

By Chris Kamalendran
The government's decision to give up its stake in the Prima Flour Mill complex in Trincomalee is set to trigger off a chain reaction. 

Informed sources said the government's loss of control over the flour milling factory would lead to possible price hikes and retrenchment of over 2,000 employees.

The government vehemently denied the allegation that giving up its stakes in the Prima Flour Mill would result in a price increase. However, an official of the flour company said its monopoly would lead to price increases.

The Prima Factory which had been in operation since 1978 was entrusted with the control and distribution of its products worth Rs. 5800 million (65 million US dollars).

"We were forced to give up the stake in the flour mill as we needed money to run the country," Food and Marketing Development Minister Reggie Ranatunga told The Sunday Times.

Under the original agreement signed with the government, Prima factory operations should have been handed over to Sri Lanka by the end 2004 as it was built under the Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) system.

However, Minister Ranatunga said the government had no expertise to run the factory. He said the government then called for tenders through the Public Enterprises Reforms Commission (PERC) and decided to give up its stake in it.

With the Prima Flour Milling taking over the distribution of its products the Food Department would be sidelined. "We have decided to stop the lorry contractors who were assigned to handle distribution through the Food Department," a senior officer of the Prima Factory said.

He said the company would send its products by train minimising the use of lorries. He also said they would not use Food Department storage facilities as the factory had selected provincial agents to handle the distribution of flour.

Prima Factory sources said the cost of production would go up with the new management methods. However, Minister Reggie Ranatunga denied the possibility of a price increase. The Treasury also denied news reports earlier this week about the possibility of a price hike in flour.

Meanwhile, the government sources said flour price was likely to increase when the government stopped subsidising the flour.

Food Commissioner W. D. Gunatillake declined to comment on a possible price increase but confirmed that 2000 employees involved in the flour distribution at co-operative stores would lose their jobs.

Mr. Gunatillake said the Food Department had 29,000 metric tonnes of flour sufficient for three months. He said a stock of 4,000 mt. supplied to the Food Department will arrive in Colombo tomorrow. Meanwhile, traders in the up-country are reported to be hoarding flour stocks expecting a price hike. 

Food Minister Ranatunga denied reports that the Prima Flour Milling company would have a monopoly over the flour distribution. He said a new private flour milling company would be launched in Colombo and the private sector could now import it. He also said the Food Department too could import flour under the PL 480 agreement.

Meanwhile, two private sector companies which tried to import flour told The Sunday Times that it was not a profitable business.

Government sources said although an agreement had been signed a new flour milling factory was unlikely to come up during the next 18 months.

PRIU won't remove ship warning

The Presidential Policy Research Information Unit (PRIU) Director General, Eric Fernando, has defended using a report on the government web site, warning world oil tankers that the LTTE might attack them.

Mr. Fernando said he had no plans to remove the report, despite concerns expressed by the shipping trade.

The report warning world oil tankers that LTTE had been named as one of the terrorist groups that were considering attacking oil tankers, had been filed by Reuters on April 27. It was later carried on the official Government Web site.

Despite the recent developments and the crisis faced by shipping agents the Government webiste PRIU still displays the statement.

It reads that the LTTE has been named as one of the terrorist groups that are considering attacking marine targets posing an increasing international threat to the world oil tanker trade. It was taken from an extract in a speech made by a former mercenary Colonel to the international tanker owners organisation.

Last week shipping agents raised concern over the statement saying that it had an adverse impact specially after the increase in the insurance levy.

The report had identified the LTTE with the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines.

Bathiya and Santhush bag silver award

By Ruhanie Perera
Popular singing sensations Bathiya and Santhush did Sri Lanka proud when they won the Silver Award at the 'Azia Dauysy', world music festival and awards held in Kazakhstan, Russia on August 1. The duo was rated No.2 in the Euro-Asia Region and No.1 in Asia.

The 'Azia Dauysy' contest organised by the ëVoice of Asia's World Music Foundation, attracted entries from Europe and Asia. Bathiya and Santhush together with Ranidu and Nevanthi who make up their team competed with artistes from England, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Cyprus and many other countries. 

The other performers were backed by famous record labels such as Sony, EMI and Universal and were accompanied by managers, producers and sound engineers. Being their own managers, producers and sound engineers, the Bathiya and Santhush team found the competition slightly daunting at first, but after their first rehearsal where they rehearsed Siri Sangabodhi, Life and Manusathkule (their hit songs in Sri Lanka, which they had decided to play for the finals) they were an instant hit. 

Seventeen entries were chosen for the finals by a 14-member panel of judges, all top record company officials. In the final all the artistes faced TV viewer ratings as well as the judges. Bathiya and Santhush received the highest score at the TV viewer ratings and went on to win the Silver Award. Ruzica Cavic of Yugoslavia rated No.1, in the overall results won the Gold and Jay Day of Finland came in at No.3 with the Bronze. 

(See full story in next Sunday's Mirror Magazine) 

Probe on attack

Information Director Ariya Rubesinghe yesterday called for immediate action against Air Force officers who allegedly assaulted a journalist when he was trying to cover the air crash at Kurana.

Mr. Rubesinghe said he had seen the films of ABC Radio journalist Udaya Wijesinghe being attacked at the crash site.

Earlier ABC Radio had formally written to the director asking for a probe.

CID quizzes Lakbima staff

By Shane Seneviratne
The CID raided the Lakbima office in Kandy on Friday and questioned staff there for about five hours.

The Sunday Times learns six CID officers made the raid on a warrant issued by the Negombo magistrate who is inquiring into the July 24 attacks at Katunayake.

It is learnt the CID had found some telephone numbers but they were of a furniture shop which was earlier situated in the complex where the Lakbima office now functions.

Lakbima staff said they had informed the CID officers that the numbers were of a furniture shop but the CID had continued to question them on matters relating to finances of the paper.

Residents hit in stench battle

By Tania Fernando
A five hundred million rupee state project in Kollupitiya has run into a problem due to some residents have connected their sewage lines to the main rain water disposal line.

The Unity Place rain water disposal project was given to a private contractor by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation Development Corporation (SLRDC) with the Colombo Municipal Council as co-ordinator. The aim was to send the rain water to the sea through Stambul Place. 

Residents are now complaining about an unbearable stench emanating from this line, while the two institutions (SLRDC and CMC) are blaming each other.

An SLRDC official said the smell could be coming from a CMC sewage line but a CMC official said a full study was needed to find out what caused the stench.

The SLRDC official also said some residents might have got illegal connections to the rain water pipe through the CMC sewage line. 

Colombo Mayor Omar Kamil put the whole blame on the SLRDC, saying it had undertaken the project and must see to any problem.

Chamber boss wants national government

By M. Ismeth
Ceylon Chamber of Commerce chief Chandra Jayartane has called for the setting up of a national government to give priority to the peace process as a means of overcoming the current political and economic turmoil.

He said he believed parliament should be resummoned immediately and efforts made to set up a national government, including more than two thirds of the MPs. After taking effective steps for peace, attention could then be focused on other key areas such as economic and educational reforms.

He said that the business leaders were not too concerned about history, 17 years of alleged misrule by the UNP or seven by the PA. They were concerned about what would happen in the next ten years and focusing largely on the solution rather than the past.

He rejected recent charges by the President that the private sector was interested largely in itself and was backing any particular party.


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