Licences of over 300 chemists were cancelled in Delhi till December 31 last year because they did not meet various regulatory guidelines of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI). During the same period, 16 of 300 drug samples tested in surprise checks from various private chemists, and three of 42 samples tested from government pharmacies were found to be of sub-standard quality.
According to data from the Delhi drug control department, all three have been the lowest in the last five years.
Since 2009, 2,153 samples have been tested in private pharmacies in Delhi, of which 101 failed quality checks. This points to a failure rate of about 4.7 per cent. In 2009-10, the most number of samples were tested at 608, of which 31 failed quality tests. For government hospitals, 210 samples have been collected for testing in five years, of which seven were found to be lacking in quality norms, which shows a failure rate of 3.3 per cent.
During this period, around 2,900 chemists’ licenses have been revoked by the drug control department, the highest of which were seen in 2010-11 (1,040). This figure stood at 562 and 524 in the next two years. Tests of 170 samples collected in the last five years are still awaited.
According to the data, sample collection has progressively decreased. Last year, the lowest number of samples were tested from private hospitals — around 26 samples per month — against a monthly average of about 40 samples in 2012-13 and 51 samples in 2009-10.
Only 70 samples were collected for testing from government hospitals in 2009-10. This number fell to 36 in 2011-12 and rose slightly to 42 samples collected last year — a paltry average of 3.5 samples tested per month.
Last year, action was taken by the department against 310 chemist shops, compared to 1,040 in 2010-11.
Senior officials said the department has been dealing with a severe staff crunch, which could be responsible for the fall in samples tested. The post of drug controller has been vacant since October 2003, and the work is being handled by special secretary in the Health department, who has been given its additional charge.
Posts of two deputy drug controllers have been vacant since 2006, while 11 drug inspectors’ posts have been made vacant in the last three years.
“There is a gross shortage of expertise in the department. We are trying to appoint officers on contract basis at the earliest. Three assistant drug controllers have been posted in the department on contract basis, under whom 20 drug inspectors are working,” an official from the drug control department said.
According to activist Raj Hans Bansal, who has been highlighting the issue of drug safety, “If this is the situation of the drug control department in the national capital, then what can we expect in other departments? Even the post of the drug controller, who is supposed to be the top expert in the department, has been vacant for eight years.”
Bansal said with tests on even such small samples showing failures, there was a need to conduct more surprise sample checks. “We need more checks particularly in government hospitals. How can the department only test 42 samples in the whole of last year?” he asked.