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Almost 20,000 pricey cancer pills trashed in Vietnam over red tape

Wednesday, June 14, 2017, 21:13 GMT+7

Nearly 20,000 cancer pills donated to a Ho Chi Minh City hospital have ended up in the bin as it took nine months to complete all the procedures needed to receive the medicines.

In mid-July 2013, Novatis Pharma AG, a subsidiary of Swiss healthcare firm Novatis, sent a letter to the Ho Chi Minh City Hospital of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, offering to give the clinic 304 boxes of Tasigna, consisting of a total of 34,608 pills.

The pricey Tasigna drug is used for patients of chronic myelogenous leukemia, an uncommon type of blood cancer.

However, due to excessive bureaucracy in the process from accepting the offer to receiving the medications, the donated pills would not arrive in Ho Chi Minh City until the drugs were only ten months away from expiration.

Consequently, the Ho Chi Minh City hospital could manage to use only 14,611 of the donated pills, with the remaining 19,997 tablets destroyed as they all had expired.

With the Tasigna costing as much as VND700,000 (US$31.25) apiece as per August 2015 market prices, the destroyed medicines were worth a total of VND14 billion ($625,000), the Ho Chi Minh City Inspectorate has said after probing the case.

The inspectorate has called on the municipal administration to task the health department with punishing the individuals or organizations responsible for the hefty waste.

Red tape

According to the inspectorate, the procedure to accept the drug offer from the foreign sponsor was the main cause for the waste, as it took nine months, from November 2013 to August 2014, to complete ten different protocols.

For instance, although the Hospital of Hematology and Blood Transfusion received the drug-gifting offer on July 15, 2013, it only responded to the donor more than a month later, on August 23.

The hospital then wasted another three months, waiting until November the same year to begin seeking permission from the Ministry of Health and the National Drug Administration to accept the donation.

The procedure then involved such agencies as Ho Chi Minh City’s health and customs departments and the municipal administration.

On June 24, 2014, nearly one year after Novatis Pharma AG offered to donate the drugs, the Ho Chi Minh City administration officially allowed the hematology and blood transfusion hospital to receive the donation.

When the shipment arrived in the southern metropolis in August 2014, the city’s customs refused to clear the drugs, saying they were then only ten months from expiration, against the required 12-month threshold.

The hospital and the health department then had to take several steps to seek customs clearance for the medicines as they were meant for “humanitarian purposes.”

All problems were only solved on August 13, 2014, when the drugs were officially taken into the hospital’s stock.

However, as it was impossible to use up more than 34,600 drugs in ten months, the hospital had to destroy 19,997 expired drugs in August 2015.

It finally took 13 months, from the time when Novatis Pharma AG offered to donate the drugs, for them to reach their destination.

The recipient, Hospital of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, alone wasted 4.5 months, as it knew of the donation in mid-July 2013 but only sought permission to receive the donation in late November the same year.

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