This buy­ers’ club needs all help it can get

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

where multi­na­tion­als rou­tinely col­luded with hos­pi­tals to make health­care vir­tu­ally un­af­ford­able to a vast num­ber of Chi­nese.

So I read­ily ac­qui­esced when a Chi­nese col­league asked if I could ar­range to get medicines from In­dia for an aunt suf­fer­ing from lung can­cer— the price dif­fer­ence for the same drug be­tween China and In­dia was as­tro­nom­i­cal.

It’s an­other mat­ter that I couldn’t do it since no courier com­pany in In­dia was will­ing to bring in the medicine, cit­ing Chi­nese reg­u­la­tions. This was a long time ago but the case of leukemia pa­tient Lu Yong struck a ready chord with me— and mil­lions of Chi­nese.

His story, briefly: Lu, in­spired by the award-win­ning film Dal­las Buy­ers Club, smug­gled un­ap­proved, In­dian-made drugs for him­self and about 1,000 oth­ers at prices which do not even bear com­par­i­son in China. He paid around 200 yuan ($32) for a month’s sup­ply of a generic ver­sion of a drug – orig­i­nally de­vel­oped by a ma­jor multi­na­tional com­pany— which would have cost him 23,000 yuan here and is not cov­ered un­der health in­sur­ance in most cases.

The catch was the In­dian drug— pro­duced le­git­i­mately in the coun­try un­der laws which al­low for man­u­fac­ture of generic drugs once the patents, typ­i­cally held by multi­na­tion­als, ex­pire— was not ap­proved in China and Lu was de­tained last month by po­lice in­Hu­nan prov­ince for al­legedly sell­ing coun­ter­feit drugs.

The ro­bust Chi­nese so­cial me­dia took up his case— and whether the is­sue was re­lated or not— the pros­e­cu­tors dropped charges against him.

Lu will not be the last per­son to take to “smug­gling”. Ap­par­ently, In­di­an­made generic ver­sions of ex­pen­sive can­cer drugs are in great de­mand in China, on­line sales agents told China Daily.

A lead­ing on­col­o­gist told this news­pa­per that he sym­pa­thized with Lu’s plight and called on the au­thor­i­ties to ad­dress the is­sue: “To some ex­tent, Lu Yong and Ron Woodroof in Dal­las Buy­ers Club are all he­roes strug­gling for their own and other peo­ple’s lives.”

Af­ter all, the “fac­tory of the world”, which makes in­ex­pen­sive goods for the rest of the world, could try its hand at mak­ing drugs af­ford­able for its own peo­ple. Con­tact the writer at ravi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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