ISLAMABAD: A scientist who drew the attention of the Supreme Court to the alleged supply of contaminated diagnostic injections to hospitals has asked that the matter be heard as soon as possible, preferably next week.
Mohammad Riaz Pasha, a scientist who is serving as an adviser in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), pleaded that this long-drawn issue needed the immediate consideration of the Supreme Court to find out how such a major health risk had been allowed to pass off as treatment.
At the last hearing on Feb 2, a three-judge Supreme Court bench had asked the federal government and the PAEC chairman to respond to the allegations levelled by Mr Pasha that injections used for diagnosing cancer were contaminated and administered to patients since 2011.
In a fresh application seeking an early hearing of the matter, the petitioner alleged that these injections were contaminated with undesirable radio nuclides — such as Molybdenum-99, Strontium-90 and Ruthenium-103. These were produced by the fission of highly-enriched uranium in the nuclear reactor at the Pakistan Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology (Pinstech). These, he claimed, irradiated the sensitive blood-producing bone marrow and could cause leukaemia and other malignant diseases of the blood.
PAEC adviser claims tainted diagnostic Mo-99 injections were supplied to hospitals
Radio-nuclides, or radio isotopes, are inherently unstable particles that contain excess nuclear energy and those with suitably short half-lives are used in medicine for diagnostic purposes.
He regretted that all 14 hospitals operating under PAEC had been allegedly supplied the contaminated injections since 2011 and that these injections had been administered to thousands of patients ever since.
In addition to PAEC hospitals, several other hospitals also used injections bought from Pinstech, the application alleged.
The scientist insisted that one batch of technetium-99m generator, which is used to extract an isotope from a source of decaying molybdenum-99, was sufficient to administer injections to 500-600 patients.
He contended that the final results of quality control reports were tampered with in order to secure certification from the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA), claiming that he was privy to the actual results as he oversaw the quality control procedures during the manufacturing process of Mo-99 and Tc-99 generators at Pinstech from June 2012 to June 2013.
In the petition, Mr Pasha alleged that he had found contamination that could lead to cancer at the stage of diagnosis.
A third party report by Moody International Certification Group, carried out on Feb 12, 2013, pointed out that the value of molybdenum-99 in these injections was found to be much higher than specified values. Mr Pasha claimed that this batch was delivered to different hospitals.
“It is like fitting an atomic bomb into the human body, resulting in the failure of organs as well as the entire nervous and immune systems… that too at a stage where it was yet to be diagnosed whether the patient was suffering from cancer or not,” the petition maintained.
These injections are used for imaging and studying organs such as brain, heart, muscles, thyroids, lungs, liver, gall bladder, kidneys as well as skeleton and blood for detecting signs of cancer, the petition stated.