Just three days ago, a multinational pharmaceutical company was found to be hoarding 48 million tablets of paracetamol at a time when supply across the country has run thin. In response, authorities launched an investigation to take action against all those who have produced an artificial shortage when supply is plentiful. International donors have been generous in supplying medical aid so there should be no reason for regions—particularly those affected by floods—to be deprived of key medication.

The National Assembly’s standing committee on National Health Services (NHS) issued directives to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) to not only ensure that the supply of paracetamol resumes in the market but that those responsible for hoarding and discontinuing production are held accountable. The tussle with the pharmaceutical sector began with demands to increase the price of medicines like Panadol by 80 paisas. The federal cabinet resisted this demand by stating that 85 percent of the raw materials needed to produce paracetamol are available locally, while only 15 percent is imported. They insisted that the medicine is being sold at a reasonable price. The result of this has been a complete shortage at a time when the country is suffering from multiple crises like flooding, dengue and Covid-19 as well. What makes it more dubious is the fact that supply streams have not shrunk. In fact, flood relief schemes have done well to attract important medicines like paracetamol and we have an abundant supply.

There can be no other explanation, other than hoarding, for this sudden and rather selfish shortage of paracetamol in the country. Millions are suffering from countless ailments that require medicine like Panadol for relief. To rob those suffering from that is absolutely horrendous and the government must take action. Our taxation schemes on medical imports and sales documentation requirements have become more robust, meaning that there are plenty of ways through which the authorities can determine who all is responsible for this. To delay this process, despite possessing all the tools needed to find the culprits, should be unacceptable.