Shortage of life-saving heart drug

Updated: 2011-09-13 07:12

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Experts have called for a national drug-control system after a nationwide deficit of a life-saving drug, which has lasted at least three months.

Doctors at a Beijing hospital said some specialized hospitals, which perform hundreds of cardiac operations every month, have been paralyzed by their lack of protamine sulfate, which is commonly administered after heart surgery to reverse the anticoagulant effects of heparin.

The earliest report of a shortage was in Hubei province on July 21. This was followed by reports of shortages in Guangdong, Shandong and Liaoning provinces.

The Shandong newspaper, Qilu Evening News, quoted a regional sales manager, surnamed Zhuang, as saying the province had been allocated 150 doses of protamine sulfate after Shanghai No 1 Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Co Ltd recently resumed production of the drug.

"But its monthly use here is usually 10,000 doses," he said.

The Ministry of Health has denied it is responsible for supplies of the drug and passed the buck to the State Food and Drug Administration, claiming the latter is responsible for the supervision of medicines.

Shen Chen, head of the publicity office of the State Food and Drug Administration, said he was unaware of the shortage, but said the administration is responsible for the quality of medicines, not the supply.

"Development and reform authorities oversee the medicines' prices, while the industrial and commercial authorities oversee the storage. The food and drug departments only cover the approval and quality of medicines."

Industry insiders said one of the reasons for the shortage was the low profit margin, which discourages companies from mass producing the drug.

"Some companies can't earn enough to recover their costs, therefore it is almost impossible to maintain their enthusiasm for continuing production," said Lu Guoping, secretary-general of the Shanghai Pharmaceutical Trade Association.

Lu said the government should issue policies to prevent future shortages of such medicines to avoid possible nationwide public health incidents.

Yi Shenghua, a lawyer at Beijing Yingke Law Firm, said the country should have a unified system to guarantee the normal supply of medicines that are widely used and drug manufacturers should fulfill their responsibilities to society, even though there is no law stipulating they should produce specific medicines.

He came up with two ways to deal with the problem of companies only producing profitable drugs.

"The government can order businesses to manufacture a certain amount of cheap medicines. Or it can offer financial assistance to subsidize cheap, but life-saving medicines."