Cure sought for medical sector's ills

Updated: 2013-09-12 07:56

By He Na and Jiang Xueqing in Beijing, and Han Junhong in Changchun (China Daily)

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Long profit chain

He Dong, general manager of a large pharmaceutical manufacturer in Changchun, said commercial bribery in the medical sector involves a long profit chain and the sales reps are at the lowest level. Even if the police arrested every representative, good and bad, or abolished the job, bribery would still exist and another group of people would rapidly appear under a different job title and commit the same acts.

"The crackdown on commercial bribery is necessary and timely, but just focusing on the sales representatives is putting the cart before the horse," he said.

While He is worried that the crackdown may force bribery further underground, he stressed that the practice is only the tip of the industry's iceberg of corruption.

He's words were echoed by Song, who said the really serious problems lie in the approval process for new drugs and the bidding process for government and hospital drugs.

"Too many government departments are given rights over drug approval and tender. Under the current bidding system, drugs that provide effective treatment at a reasonable price are not guaranteed to win approval or be listed in the local basic drug category, or the hospital drug category. Good relations with government departments always carry more weight," Song said.

That cozy relationship is also one of the reasons companies prefer to cultivate good relations with government departments rather than investing time and energy in the research and development of new drugs, he said.

"The involvement of so many government departments equals zero management. Sometimes, these departments intentionally erect barriers if drug companies forget to shower them with gifts or money," he said.

"A new medicine needs at least four to five years of research and development before it can be put on the market. Without close relationships with government departments, pharmaceutical manufacturers seldom dare to invest in new drugs. To save on costs, many manufactures will make small changes to existing treatments, give them a new name and then apply for approval," said He.

In the long run, the system is harmful to innovation and development across the entire industry. "It's essential that we introduce an independent nongovernmental body to oversee the approval of new drugs and the bidding process for the basic drug category in each province. Government departments should only be involved to ensure that supervision is correctly carried out," he said.