Authorities of a district in Ho Chi Minh City have attributed a lack of personnel and stern penalties to a surge in the number of unlicensed drugstores across the neighborhood.
Many pharmacies in Thu Duc District have been found operating without a license as required by law.
Owners of such facilities only have to lease a proper space and put up their signboards before being able to start selling medicine.
In late November, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters arrived at a drugstore along National Highway No. 13 in Hiep Binh Phuoc Ward, whose signboard claims that the facility meets all GPP (Good Pharmacy Practice) standards.
A man in his 30s, dressed in casual clothes, was looking after his child inside the under-10-square-meter shop.
After noticing the customers, he came to the counter and start selling.
Following a short conversation, this man claimed his pharmacy had yet to be granted a license from the municipal Department of Health, adding he was negotiating with an “intermediary” to get one.
The journalists later spotted a few similar drugstores in Thu Duc District.
At a facility named H.M. on Road No. 36 in Linh Dong Ward, the owner said he was looking for “services” to legalize his business operation.
The place is only licensed to sell dietary supplements but the owner has been operating it as a full pharmacy for quite a while.
Absence of stern punishment
During an interview with Tuoi Tre, Nguyen Van Khuon, head of the health office in Thu Duc District, confirmed that licenses for drugstores can only be issued by the municipal Department of Health.
At the beginning of each quarter, the health department sends lists of legitimate stores to its district-level offices.
Thu Duc District’s health office currently manages approximately 270 drugstores, Khuon stated.
Aside from the responsibility, the agency is also in charge of monitoring food safety, population status, epidemic prevention, and some other tasks, the official continued, adding that the office’s personnel is rather limited given the many tasks.
The office thus cannot always keep track of all unlicensed facilities in the district, Khuon said.
The biggest challenge, however, arises from the absence of assertive punishments for illegal drugstores, he continued.
The maximum fine these violators are subject to is VND7.5 million ($320), while there is no regulation stating that the unlicensed facilities have to shut down or have their medicines confiscated.
Khuon said his office will continue coordinating with relevant agencies to examine local pharmacies and impose fines upon those lacking a permit.