Pakistan bans using injections of Avastin after patients go blind, launches investigation

Customers purchase medicines at a pharmacy in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 23, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 September 2023

Pakistan bans using injections of Avastin after patients go blind, launches investigation

  • Cancer drug Avastin in smaller doses is similar to eye drug Lucentis, used as low-cost option to treat blindness-causing conditions
  • Some 68 people from various districts of Punjab province have been hospitalized with blindness after receiving injections of Avastin

KARACHI: Pakistan’s interim health minister Nadeem Jan said on Monday the government had imposed an interim ban on using injections of Avastin cancer drug across the country after a number of patients injected with the drug lost vision.

Some 68 people from various districts of Punjab province have been hospitalized with blindness after receiving injections of Avastin, a medication primarily used for the treatment of cancer patients but also prescribed off-label in Pakistan for diabetic retinopathy-related edema. 

Health officials say the medication is registered with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) for the treatment of colon carcinoma only.

The regulator said in a statement on Monday incidents of “loss of vision in diabetic patients have been reported following treatment with Altered/Dispensed/Diluted Avastin injection.” 

DRAP instructed the drug’s importer to recall suspected batches of Avastin 100mg injection, which it said had been created illegally.

“The sale/distribution of registered Avastin Injection has been put on halt till verification of its quality through sampling and laboratory testing to safeguard public health,” DRAP said in a statement on its website.

“We have established a clear strategy in response to this situation,” the health minister told Arab News. “The supply of this medication [in injection form], whether from Roche or Genius pharmaceutical, has been halted, and both Punjab and other provinces have been instructed to cease its sale and purchase until the investigation report is released.”

Jan said a five-member committee had been established to investigate “whether the problem was caused by the medicine itself, issues in its supply chain, the skill level of the administering doctors, or the sterilization process.” 

Two people associated with distribution of Genius Pharmaceuticals had been identified, and a First Information Report (FIR) had been filed against them, the minister said: 

“Two suspects have been identified and charged, but they have gone underground to evade arrest. They will be apprehended soon.” 

The affected patients had used Avastin doses distributed by Genius Pharmaceuticals.

“Once the report is ready, it will be made public, and the culprits will be dealt with according to the law. They will be punished, setting an example for others and deterring them from committing such acts driven by self-greed,” Jan added.

On its website, Roche said Avastin was approved in more than 130 countries, including the United States, to treat several types of cancer. Roche’s Pakistan has not yet commented. 

Avastin was used as an eye treatment off-label, meaning outside of the approved use. Cancer drug Avastin, when used at much lower doses, is similar to eye drug Lucentis, and is used in many countries as a low-cost option to treat certain blindness-causing conditions.

Speaking to Arab News, Javed Akram, Punjab’s Minister for Specialized Health, said the injections seemed to be okay when they were dispatched from the company but problems likely arose when they were converted into smaller doses.

“It is being transferred into small syringes from large vials for cost-cutting and profit-making, which goes against good clinical practices,” Akram said, adding that the technical committee would determine the real cause. 

Akram said a majority of the affected patients from central Punjab had been admitted to Mayo Hospital, Lahore, while those from the province’s southern districts had been shifted to Nishtar Hospital, Multan.

Jan said the government had instructed provincial authorities to ensure patients received free and high-quality treatment.

“Eighty percent of the patients show improvement with proper treatment. The government is committed to ensuring the full recovery of all patients,” he said, adding that though the cases had so far only occurred in Punjab, other provinces had also been adviced to suspend the use of this medication for two weeks as a precaution.

Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls

Updated 9 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan urges Pakistan top judge to ensure equal opportunities to all parties in Feb. 8 polls

  • The ex-premier requests Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa to set up a commission to probe ‘disappearances,’ arrests of political workers 
  • The development comes amid months-long crackdown on Khan’s party and as Pakistan heads to national polls amid political turmoil

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister, Imran Khan, has drawn Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s attention toward the “discrimination” faced by his party, urging him to ensure that all political parties get equal opportunities in the upcoming general elections, scheduled to be held on February 8. 

The development comes amid a months-long crackdown on supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which began after violent attacks on government and military installations over Khan’s brief arrest in a graft case in May this year. 

Several top aides and members of Khan’s party have since distanced themselves from the party, while many still remain behind bars. The ex-premier himself is facing a slew of cases that he says are “politically motivated” and aimed at keeping him out of politics. He has been in jail since August 5 after being convicted in a case involving the sale of state gifts. 

In a letter written to CJP Isa on Thursday, Khan said the apex court could not be unaware of the “disappearances” and “arbitrary arrests” of individuals affiliated with the PTI, and that there was no possibility of a fair general election on February 8 without the intervention of the apex court to halt these widespread arrests. 

“The practice of successive arrests of persons granted bails in known cases must be stopped. Arrests on the basis of fresh FIRs (first information reports), or the inclusion through supplementary statements, the list of accused in existing FIRs may only be undertaken after affording the accused opportunity to approach a court of competent jurisdiction for pre-arrest bail,” Khan wrote in his letter. 

“A commission may kindly be set to in investigating the abductions/disappearances of journalists/political workers all across the country.” 

The former premier requested the top judge to direct the federal and provincial governments as well as the election regulator to ensure that persons affiliated with all political parties, including the PTI, are allowed to carry out political meetings and gatherings without “discrimination between one party and any other.” 

“The federal government and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority be directed to ensure that all political parties, including the PTI, and their leaders and members are allowed coverage without any restriction or discrimination,” Khan added. 

Khan’s letter comes amid repeated accusations by his PTI party against the current caretaker administration and the military establishment of having a soft corner for three-time former premier Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. 

Sharif, who was convicted of corruption in 2018 and returned to Pakistan in October after nearly four years in self-imposed exile, was on Wednesday acquitted in a case relating to the purchase of upscale London flats. He was previously sentenced to 10 years in prison in the case. 

Khan’s loyalists see the recent judgments granting relief to Sharif and his family members as favors given to the PML-N, which appears to be poised to take over the reins of the country once again. 

Pakistan becomes first country in South Asia to issue ‘gender bond’ to financially empower women 

Updated 30 November 2023

Pakistan becomes first country in South Asia to issue ‘gender bond’ to financially empower women 

  • Through the bond, Pakistani non-profit Kashf Foundation will raise $8.7 million from stock market to extend micro loans to 30,000 women 
  • Caretaker finance minister calls the launch of gender bond a ‘groundbreaking initiative’ and a powerful tool for bridging the gender gap 

KARACHI: Pakistan on Thursday became the first country in South Asia to launch a ‘gender bond’ to raise Rs2.5 billion ($8.7 million) for micro loan disbursement to an expected 30,000 women, mostly affected by devastating floods that wreaked havoc in the country in 2022.

The first “only-for-women bond” has been issued by Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani non-profit organization, in collaboration with InfraZamin Pakistan, for-profit credit enhancement facility funded from InfraCo. Asia Investments and Karandaaz Pakistan. 

The Rs2.5 billion proceeds of the bond, raised through the country’s stock market, will be utilized to extend loans, mostly to women who were affected by the 2022 floods, according to the issuers. 

“The idea behind this bond is to give loans to those women who were affected by the floods last year so that they can build resilience and protect themselves in the future,” Shahzad Iqbal, chief financial officer at Kashf Foundation, told Arab News on the sidelines of the bond’s launch at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX). 

“The bond size is Rs2.5 billion and the tenure of the bond is three years. This is only for women that is why it is called a gender bond.” 

Within the three-year period, Iqbal believed, his lending institution would provide loans to around 30,000 women through micro-lending. 

An InfraZamin official said the sole purpose of the bond’s issuance was financial inclusion of women by contributing toward small businesses led by women as well as the restoration of flood-affected homes for women. 

“By creating such a structure, we have effectively targeted women and because of that, we have met the requirements for this to be a gender bond,” Maheen Rahman, chief executive of InfraZamin Pakistan, told Arab News. 

“There are several (gender bonds) in the world, but in Pakistan this is the first gender bond. And in South Asia, this is the first gender bond to be issued,” said Rehman, whose company has guaranteed the bond. 

Maheen Rehman, chief executive of InfraZamin Pakistan, is addressing the launch ceremony of Pakistan's first "gender bond" in Karachi, Pakistan, on November 30, 2023. (AN photo)

The bond’s issuance follows the guidelines prescribed by the national financial regulatory agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), while Arif Habib Limited, a leading Karachi-based brokerage house, has played a role of financial adviser and arranger for the bond. 

Shahid Ali Habib, CEO, Arif Habib Limited (AHL), informed the bond would be traded at PSX’s over-the-counter (OTC) market. 

“It will be listed in the OTC market and the issue is closed now,” Habib said. “This will be processed at the stock exchange in a month or one-and-a-half month time and then will be available for trading.” 

Pakistan’s Caretaker Finance Minister Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, who spoke via video link, termed the launch of gender bond a “groundbreaking initiative.” 

“The gender bond is a powerful tool for bridging the gender gap and empowering women,” Akhtar said. “As the demand for sustainable investment continues to grow, gender bonds are poised to play a significant role in driving positive social change and empowerment within Pakistan.” 

To a question about lending to borrowers, the Kashf CFO said the minimum lending would be around Rs60,000 ($209) and the maximum would be around Rs500,000 ($1,748) per borrower, for which the procedure was very simple. 

“They don’t need to provide us any kind of documentation or a guarantee. They simply need to provide us a copy of their CNIC (computerized national identity card) and a photograph, and then we do a valuation of their repayment behavior,” Iqbal said, adding it usually took around two to seven days to complete the loan process. 

Rehman said the payback ratio among women borrowers was much better than men, with the lender incurring minimum losses. 

“We found that women who borrow from such institutions (Kashf foundation) pay back far better than what we saw in other institutions that were catering to both men and women,” she said. “In fact, Kashf’s non-performing loan portfolio is only 0.5 percent of their total loan book.” 

SECP Chairman Akif Saeed said such micro loans to women created a social impact that benefitted whole families. 

A Pakistani province aims to deport 10,000 Afghans a day 

Updated 30 November 2023

A Pakistani province aims to deport 10,000 Afghans a day 

  • The measure is part of a crackdown following a sharp decline in the expulsion of undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan 
  • Some of those targeted for deportation have apparently gone to remote areas in Pakistan to avoid arrest, authorities say 

QUETTA: A Pakistani province is setting targets for police to arrest and deport hundreds of thousands of Afghans who are in the country illegally, officials said Thursday. 

The measure is part of a nationwide crackdown following a sharp decline in the expulsion of Afghans living in Pakistan without legal permission. Near the Chaman border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, local residents were protesting against new travel visa requirements aimed at cutting down on illegal immigration that have disrupted traffic in the area. 

Some of those targeted for deportation had apparently gone to remote areas in Pakistan to avoid arrest, authorities said. 

“Instructions have gone to police to arrest Afghans living in Pakistan illegally,” said Jan Achakzai, spokesperson for the government in southwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan province. He said authorities have been asked to deport 10,000 Afghans a day. 

Achakzai made his comment days after authorities at the two key northwestern Torkham and southwestern Chaman border crossings acknowledged that there has been a sudden decrease in the number of Afghans who were sent back to Afghanistan after being arrested on the charges of living in Pakistan illegally. 

An estimated 1.7 million Afghans were living in Pakistan in October when authorities announced the crackdown, saying that anyone without proper documents had to go back to their countries by Oct. 31 or be arrested. 

Since then, more than 400,000 Afghans returned to their home country. 

Pakistani officials say they are deporting only those foreigners, including Afghans, who are in the country illegally, and an estimated 1.4 million Afghans who are registered as refugees should not worry as they are not the target of the anti-migrant drive. Police in Pakistan have been going door to door to check migrants’ documentation. 

Pakistan has been hosting Afghans since the 1980s, when millions of Afghans fled south and east to the neighboring Islamic nation during the Soviet occupation of their country. The numbers spiked after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. 

As part of its crackdown, Pakistan stopped recognizing special permits under which hundreds of thousands of residents in the Balochistan province border town of Chaman could cross between the two countries. The new visa requirement angered residents who have been rallying near the border, disrupting normal traffic toward the border crossing. 

The protesters want Pakistan to allow them to continue using the special permits for business purposes and to meet with relatives who live in the Afghan border city of Spin Boldak. 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban-led administration says it is providing shelter and food to returnees. According to Tolo News, an private Afghan outlet, Afghan refugees have complained of mistreatment by Pakistani soldiers after returning home. 

The alleged mistreatment of migrants by Pakistani authorities drew widespread condemnation from human organizations. 

On Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Pakistani authorities have committed widespread abuses against Afghans living in the country to compel their return home. 

“Pakistani officials have created a coercive environment for Afghans to force them to return to life-threatening conditions in Afghanistan,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately end the abuses and give Afghans facing expulsion the opportunity to seek protection in Pakistan.” 

Pakistani authorities have denied such allegations, saying anyone found guilty of mistreating Afghan immigrants lacking permanent legal status would be punished. Achakzai said migrants who are in the country illegally are held at deporting centers in a dignified manner before transporting them to border crossings so they can go back home. 

Another appeal filed in Pakistan top court against deportation of Afghan nationals

Updated 30 November 2023

Another appeal filed in Pakistan top court against deportation of Afghan nationals

  • Thousands of Afghans, many of whom lived in Pakistan for decades, have left under government’s deportation policy
  • Petition says government committing violations of human rights, constitution and international law with new policy

ISLAMABAD: A group of top academics on Thursday filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the government’s campaign to deport Afghans and seeking orders to restrain law enforcement agencies from implementing the expulsion policy.

Islamabad last month announced it would expel over a million undocumented migrants, mostly Afghans, amid a row with Kabul over charges that it harbors anti-Pakistan militants. Since the announcement of the deportation drive on Oct. 3, tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom have lived in Pakistan for decades, have had to leave the country, and authorities are rounding up many more in raids across the country.

Politicians and right activists earlier this month moved the Supreme Court against the government’s deportation order. The latest plea has been filed by six faculty members of the country’s top higher education institute, the Lahore University of Management Sciences, under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. The case is fixed for hearing on Dec. 1.

Article 184 (3) empowers the Supreme Court to hear cases from individuals who believe their fundamental rights have been violated and the issue is of public importance.

The plea names the federation, all four provinces, the Islamabad chief commissioner, the chief commissioner for Afghan refugees, the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the director general of Immigration and Passports and the United National High Commissioner for Afghan refugees as respondents.

It stated that the petitioners, as concerned citizens, were compelled to file the plea in the interest of poor Afghans living in Pakistan, “whether refugees, asylum seekers, so-called illegal foreigners or Pakistani citizens of Afghan origin.”

“This petition is necessitated due to the serious human rights abuses and blatant violation of the Constitution and international law being committed by the federal government, the provincial government and other government authorities in the name of Pakistan.”

The plea said the caretaker government’s decision to expel Afghans “is not contained in any formal written letter” and does not “appear to have been passed under any legal authority such as the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any other statute.”

The petition highlighted that during the process of expulsion, Rs50,000 was taken from Afghan nationals at the borders while many were forced to abandon their homes, properties and businesses in Pakistan.

“Since the impugned decision was made and the expiry of the deadline was given, Afghans are being subjected to forced expulsion, harassment, extortion, physical abuse, racial discrimination, separation from family members, and inhumane treatment in violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and international law,” the plea said.

In the 1980s, millions of Afghans fled to neighboring Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of their country. The numbers witnessed a spike after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.

Even before the expulsion drive began, Afghans have long complained about constant harassment due to the lack of citizenship rights for those who have spent decades living and working in Pakistan.

Human rights activists have for years called for Afghans born in the country to be given nationality in accordance with Pakistani law, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the country, except for children of diplomats and enemy aliens.

Protests over custodial death in southwestern Pakistan renew debate on extrajudicial killings

Updated 30 November 2023

Protests over custodial death in southwestern Pakistan renew debate on extrajudicial killings

  • Family says Balach Baloch killed in “fake encounter,” counterterrorism officials say Baloch had confessed to being involved in militancy
  • Protests and shutter down strikes observed across Makran division over killing as government sets up ‘fact-finding’ commission

QUETTA: A protest in southwestern Pakistan over the alleged extrajudicial killing of a 24-year-old ethnic Baloch man entered its seventh day on Thursday, in an ongoing saga that has renewed debate over extrajudicial detentions and deaths and police impunity in Balochistan province where such incidents are not uncommon.

Last week, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Balochistan issued a statement, seen by Arab News, saying Balach Baloch had confessed in custody to being a militant and carrying out a number of attacks. He was arrested on Nov. 20, as per the statement, in possession of five kilograms of explosive materials. Baloch was later killed in a raid on a militant hideout in the city of Turbat, the CTD said.

His family, which finally buried him on Wednesday but vowed to continue protests, has refuted CTD claims, saying Baloch was not involved in any unlawful activities but was picked up by the CTD on Oct. 29 and killed in a “fake encounter.”

Political leaders, human rights activists and families of victims have for decades spoken against killings by the police and other security agencies in staged encounters, a practice where officials claim the victim was killed in a gunfight though they were executed. Authorities deny involvement in such incidents. 

“Things are in progress,” a senior official in a “fact-finding” committee set up to probe the case told Arab News, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the inquiry. 

The body has five members and has been tasked to submit a report within 15 days.

“The families of the deceased blame others, but the Chief Minister Balochistan has constituted an inquiry commission to ascertain the circumstances,” Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti told reporters on Wednesday. “There are actions that need to be taken under the law, we can’t speak on assumptions.”

A spokesperson for the government of Balochistan and the deputy commissioner’s office did not respond to Arab News queries.


Baloch’s killing has triggered outrage in cities across the Makran division, with a complete shutter down strike observed in Turbat and other towns on Wednesday while roads leading from the area to Pakistan’s main business hub, Karachi, were blocked by protesters.

Following a demand by Baloch’s family, a local court in Turbat had ordered the registration of a First Information Report (FIR), or police complaint, against the CTD team involved in the operation in which the 24-year-old was allegedly killed.

“Now we are protesting because despite court orders, why are the authorities not registering an FIR against the people who killed my brother,” Balach’s elder sister Najma Baloch told Arab News.
On the government’s inquiry tribunal, she said: 

“Neither do I know anything about the inquiry committee nor has anyone from the committee contacted us.”

“Now hundreds of people have joined the protest and are demanding registration of FIR against the CTD team,” she added, saying her family’s “clear demand” was that Baloch’s murderers be punished.

Waseem Safar, a local member of the Baloch Yakjehti Council (BYC) that is organizing the protests, said the protest would continue in Turbat and be expanded across the province if the police case was not filed.

“Now the sit-in will turn into a movement until authorities register an FIR against the personnel involved in Balach’s murder,” he said. “We will expand the protest across Balochistan against this extrajudicial killing.”

Senior analyst Dr. Amir Rana, who is the director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, said extrajudicial detentions and killings would continue as long as the pattern of releasing suspects involved in such crimes continued.

“If the authorities register an FIR against the CTD team involved in the recent Turbat killing, the state and its institutions, including the courts, will release them,” Rana told Arab News, adding that those involved needed to be brought to justice as per the law to set a precedent for the future.