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The bribery case involving GlaxoSmithKline, the UK-based pharmaceutical company, points to another conduit that pushes up the prices of medicines. The reform of the medical system, which will scrap the money hospitals make from the sale of drugs, can hardly prevent this from ending up in patients' medical bills.
It is a shame that such a well-known transnational pharmaceutical firm has promoted its sales in such a dirty and devious way. GSK has apologized and expressed its support for China's action against corruption.
But what is appalling is the way the GSK senior executives channeled money to officials and doctors. They did it through travel agencies that would allegedly invent corporate meetings that required staff travel, but instead use the money to bribe doctors to prescribe GSK drugs or officials to ensure hospitals use their drugs.
It is widely known that drug salespeople bribe doctors in order to get them to prescribe the drugs they promote. But it is the first time that senior executives of a large transnational firm have been found to be involved in such a big bribery scandal, one that reportedly involves deals worth 3 billion yuan ($486.5 million).
The reality is that not just pharmaceutical companies and doctors, but also travel agencies and some officials did very well out of the medical bills patients pay. The money used to lubricate drug sales and prescriptions contributes 20 to 30 percent to the prices patients pay for their medicines.
These bad apples should receive the punishment they deserve for what they have done.
An effective system to prevent doctors and officials from receiving bribes needs to be established as soon as possible.
If supervision is tight enough it will leave little room for such dirty business, and there will be no way for pharmaceutical companies or drug salespeople to compete by using illegal means.
Apart from cracking down on the illegal activities of pharmaceutical firms and sales representatives, more should be done to make sure the current medical reform will indeed bring benefits to the general public.
And this case should serve as a warning to other Chinese companies and their transnational counterparts that they must abide by the law when promoting their products.
(China Daily 07/17/2013 page8)