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Affordable medicines top agenda

Affordable medicines top agenda

Write: Amandine [2011-05-20]

Affordable medicines top agendaMedicines are sold at a pharmacy in Nantong, East China' Jiangsu province.[Xu Ruiping/For China Daily]

BEIJING - President Hu Jintao has called for more efforts to establish a national system of essential medicines to offer affordable and safe medicines for all people.

Hu made the call at a group study meeting of the members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on Friday afternoon, according to a statement issued on Saturday.

The statement followed the latest public uproar over some cancer drugs reportedly earning profits as much as 2,000 percent.

Hu also asked governments at different levels to endeavor to ensure all urban and rural residents are covered by basic health care service, a key livelihood issue in the country.

He pledged more government funds for health care services, which he said must be public-oriented.

China launched a massive health care reform last year, which seeks to provide adequate and affordable health care services to all. The State Council, or Cabinet, issued a circular last month detailing specific goals and steps for future reforms.

However, last week's media exposure on high-profit drugs has triggered public complaints.

Lusun Pian, the pills to alleviate symptoms of cancer, are sold at 213 yuan ($31) per box, with a production price of 15.5 yuan, State broadcaster CCTV has reported.

The drugs were sold at 20 times the production cost in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, with a professional name: Ondansetron Hydrochloride.

The complicated marketing chain is mainly accountable for the high prices, with too many agents as well as high rebates given to the sales managers in hospitals, an insider with a Nanjing-based cancer hospital said.

The fiercer the competition between agents, the more the sales agents get involved, and the higher the drugs are sold in hospitals, she said.

For example, a dose of Ondansetron Hydrochloride, about 8 mg, costs less than 4 yuan, but is sold for 80 to 90 yuan to patients.

The Ministry of Health is getting a handle on the marketing chain to curb the price differences, according to a statement released Friday.

A regulation on centralized procurement of drugs for medical institutions is under amendment, the statement said.

So far, all provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have set up government-led not-for-profit online purchasing platforms. Central buying was organized at provincial levels.

Building a drug system to guarantee accessibility to essential drugs is part of the country's three-year plan in the latest round of medical reform unveiled in April 2009.

A total of 307 essential drugs were included in the system last August as part of the plan to guarantee people's access to essential drugs and cut their medical costs in the coming decade.

Essential medicines refer to those that meet the health care demands and are accessible to the public all the time in adequate amounts and in appropriate dosage forms, at affordable prices.

Hu Shanlian, a professor with the public health college of Fudan University, said the price control bureau and the administration for industry and commerce should better supervise the medicine market.