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Vietnam patients rejoice as government clears import of cancer medication

Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 16:23 GMT+7
Vietnam patients rejoice as government clears import of cancer medication
A man receives his medication at the Hospital of Oncology in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Two cancer drugs sponsored by a foreign pharmaceutical company for hospitals in Vietnam have been cleared for importation after months of delays to meet requirements set out by a recent government decree.

The clearance was made official by a government resolution issued on Tuesday, as signed by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam.

Hundreds of thousands of tablets of the two cancer-treating drugs Glivec 100mg and Tasigna 200mg are expected to arrive in Vietnamese hospitals as early as next week, following the express decision.

The resolution was issued on the same day that Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper published an article reporting on the fact that thousands of cancer patients in Vietnam were at risk of abandoning their treatment due to a lack of the medication.

The two crucial drugs are sponsored by Swiss-based Novartis Pharma Services AG as part of a program in which the company works with Vietnam’s state-run health insurance provider to provide the drugs for free to insured patients.

Although the program had been set to last until 2019, supply of the drugs at seven partnered hospitals in Vietnam had either been exhausted or was quickly running out due to a government decree last July requiring importers of the sponsored drugs to present a range of documents assuring their quality.

The documents, according to Novartis, requested confidential information regarding the drugs’ formula and production that they were not prepared to divulge to anyone other than Vietnam’s Ministry of Health.

The bureaucratic back-and-forth resulted in the drugs being barred from being imported into Vietnam, forcing hospitals to reduce the dosage for thousands of cancer patients, who cannot afford to purchase the expensive medication on the open market.

Cancer patients at the Hospital of Oncology in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Cancer patients at the Hospital of Oncology in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A sigh of relief

Tuesday’s resolution by the government cleared the two sponsored drugs for import based on the requirements of previous regulations, rather than those included in last year’s decree.

According to Dr. Phu Chi Dung, director of the Hospital of Blood Transfusion and Hematology in Ho Chi Minh City (BTH), all procedures are being rushed through so that patients can receive the drugs as early as next week.

A representative from Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City said shipments had already arrived at a local sea port and were waiting to be cleared.

The news came as a relief to thousands of patients diagnosed with leukemia and gastrointestinal cancer in Vietnam, all of whom had been suffering without the medication for months.

“I’m a freelancer with a monthly income of only VND5 million [US$220]. The cost of my treatment without the sponsored drugs would be over VND500 million [$22,000] a year,” said H., a 48-year-old leukemia patient in Hanoi.

B., a patient from Ho Chi Minh City diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, said he had been forced to buy his medications on the open market at an inflated price in order to maintain the recommended dosage over the past few months.

“I burst into tears of joy when I was told by my doctor this morning to come and receive my free medications. Not everyone can afford to buy their own medicine,” B. said.

“I cherish every pill because this is the last chance of survival for terminal patients like myself,” said C., another patient from Hai Phong.

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