Cyprus Mail

Ministry probes thalassaemia drug deal

By Peter Stevenson

THE health ministry has ordered an investigation into the supply of Exjade, a drug used to treat thalassaemia, after alleged irregularities were found in its supply dating back to 2011, according to deputy permanent secretary Christina Yiannaki.

She said that the investigation is being carried out following a suggestion by auditor-general Chrystalla Georghadji after irregularities had been discovered in the purchase of the drug.

The result of the investigation is expected to be completed by December 9.

According to daily Politis, the investigation is focusing on the head of the pharmaceutical services and two orders that were placed for Exjade. The first, which was eventually cancelled, was allegedly placed in 2011 at a cost of €7.9m for 118 thalassaemia sufferers. The second order was placed for 68 patients and came to €4.1m.

Health minister Petros Petrides said he was surprised by the reports that an investigation was to be conducted.

“It bothers me that a ministry official has been targeted in this way,” he said.

He assured patients who take Exjade that it is a safe drug.

“We should not cause unnecessary panic,” he said.

The pharmaceutical services said that while an investigation was ongoing they were unable to comment on the case.

Deferasirox which is marketed in Cyprus by Novartis as Exjade was the number two drug on the list of ‘most frequent suspected drugs in reported patient deaths’ compiled by the U.S. Institute for Safe Medical Practices in 2009. There were 1,320 deaths reported which resulted in a new boxed warning about gastrointestinal haemorrhage as well as kidney and liver failure.

Its main use is to reduce chronic iron overload in patients who are receiving long-term blood transfusions for conditions such as thalassaemia and other chronic anaemias.

Thalassaemia major is a disorder of the blood, more specifically it is a disorder of the haemoglobin molecule inside the red blood cells.

Thalassaemia is an inherited genetic disease, passed on from parents to children through the genes. It is not an infectious disease.

Carriers of thalassaemia are perfectly healthy individuals. The risk of giving birth to a child affected with thalassaemia is 25 per cent when both parents are carriers and 0 per cent when only one parent is a carrier.

Thalassaemia major is preventable and treatable. It is treated with regular blood transfusions and iron chelation and a total cure is on the near horizon, according to the Thalassaemia International Federation, the world body based in Cyprus.

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