Death of Mansa student: Why ‘near-expiry’ pills for schoolkids? Health minister orders probe
Health dept claims tablets supplied had expiry date of September; 33 crore iron, folic acid tablets were ordered in 2015 to tackle high anaemia in Punjabpunjab Updated: Jul 15, 2017 08:29 IST
The death of a 13-year-old student of a government school in Udat Bhagat Ram village of Mansa on Thursday has sparked a controversy over the supply of iron and folic acid tablets “near expiry date” by the Punjab health department.
The boy’s family has alleged that Karan Prasad, a Class-8 student, took ill after the school teacher gave the children iron tablets.
Punjab health minister Brahm Mohindra on Friday ordered a probe into the incident.
“An inquiry has been marked under deputy director, health, Hans Raj. The boy was frail and suffering from malnutrition. We don’t know what caused his death, but it is a serious matter,” Mohindra said.
“I had stopped supply of tablets which were near expiry date. We are trying to find out how they reached the school,” added the minister.
Hindustan Times had reported on May 20, 2017, that 33 crore iron and folic acid tablets were ordered in 2015 by the Punjab Health Systems Corporation (PHSC) to tackle high anaemia in Punjab.
Yet over two crore tablets procured in different batches in 2015 for distribution in one year were due to expire this year, between June and December, forcing the health department to hold special camps.
The minister had then ordered an inquiry into the “medicine scam” alleging that officials had earned commission during the previous government to procure iron pills worth ₹6.28 crore.
WHOSE DUTY TO DISTRIBUTE?
For the Mansa incident too, the minister blamed the previous government for allowing the education department to distribute medicines. “It is the job of health department and not teachers to distribute medicines,” Mohindra said. But PHSC managing director Varun Roojam denied that the tablets supplied to school had expired.
“According to the Bathinda civil surgeon, the expiry date on tablets was September 2017. Since 2009, schoolchildren are being given iron and folic acid tablets every Wednesday after mid-day meals. The entire stock that was near the expiry date has been consumed,” Roojam said.
Since PHRC’s letter to civil surgeons to use the piled-up stock was dated April 26, 2017, the two crore iron pills have been distributed in May and June, mainly to lakhs of pregnant women and schoolchildren.
One of the three batches had expiry date of June.
The controversy has also raised a bigger question. Nearly 56% children, 53.5% women and 25.9% men are anaemic in Punjab. The figure has gone up between the 2005-06 and 2015-16 national health surveys.
Why does it continue to be high when iron pills worth several crores are purchased by the state government?