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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Drugs cut cost, but highten the risks

By Shan Juan and Wang Qingyun  (China Daily)

09:16, February 03, 2012

The Web page for a Chinese purchasing agency's online store, which offers imported, generic anti-cancer medicines for sale. India produces one-fifth of the world's generic drugs. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily

Poor cancer patients turning to Indian copies from illegal traders

BEIJING - When Zong Jiujin was diagnosed with leukemia in his senior year at college, his doctor told him only two things could save his life: a bone marrow transplant or Gleevec, an approved cancer drug.

Both are expensive options in China, far too costly for the son of poor farmers from East China's Jiangsu province.

Yet, as he got up to leave the examination room, the doctor suggested another alternative: unapproved, "generic" cancer medication imported from India. The costs are low but the risks are high.

"My parents could never have afforded the other remedies, so I began to take the Indian drugs," said Zong, who has been successfully battling his condition since December 2010.

Instead of spending 24,000 yuan ($3,800) a month on Gleevec (or Glivec in some parts of the world), the 24-year-old said he pays a black-market trader just 1,600 yuan for generic copies.

"Another patient introduced me (to an agent)," he explained. "We've never met, we just communicate over the phone. The drugs are mailed to my home."

Although illegal, health experts say there is a huge demand for such services in China, particularly among cancer patients, who are increasing in number at a rapid rate.

Ministry of Health data released ahead of World Cancer Day on Saturday show that there are 2.8 million new cases reported nationwide every year, with the disease killing an annual average of 1.8 million people. Over the past three decades, the mortality rate among cancer patients has soared by 80 percent on the mainland.

"I've been consulted about India-made drugs quite a lot by patients," said Zhu Guangying, a lung specialist and head of radiotherapy at Peking University Cancer Hospital. "I always recommend my patients stay away from them, as without scientific evaluation it is difficult to determine the effect."

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Canada at 2012-02-0370.36.49.*
Can"t China manufacture generic drugs? Often a drug company gets a new patent by making it a once a day pill instead of twice a day, or some other minor change. And it would be good if innovation could result in China developing its own drug research. Tackling prescription medicine costs should save China billions.
  

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