Healthcare

War on drugs

Crackdown looms as fake medicine continues to circulate

It says it all, really

Preserving one’s health is a key aspect to the study of Chinese philosophy and traditional medicine.

And Xianyang, a city in Shaanxi province, is positioning itself as ‘the capital of health’ by promoting traditional Chinese therapies that focus on the concept of “Yangsheng” or health preservation, rehabilitation and a healthy lifestyle.

With a museum dedicated to the history of traditional medicine, as well as a handful of prestigious medical schools locally, the provincial city guards its reputation proudly.

But there is a problem: local authorities know that Xianyang, China’s capital for 140 years during the Qin Dynasty, is also suffering from a reputation as a haven for counterfeiters of traditional Chinese medicine.

The counterfeit groups are concentrated in the unassuming tower blocks near the city’s train station, Time Weekly reports.

From these dark and often empty buildings, the groups conduct their day-to-day business, including dissemination of promotional leaflets to nearby clinics, hospitals and retailers.

Each office is usually fronted by a couple of female staffers – the real bosses are rarely seen on site. But by early afternoon,there are dozens of rickshaws and scooters carrying boxes down to the station, as the fake products begin their journey across China by train.

The counterfeit drug trade is supported by extensive networks, from the printers of the forged labels, stamps and licences through to the issuers of authorised receipts. Distribution could extend across as many as 20 provinces, reckons Time Weekly.

Questions of morality aside – that is to say, knowingly selling useless cures to those in need of real ones – the thriving nature of the industry is no great revelation.

WiC has written extensively about China’s counterfeit culture. And traditional Chinese medicine suffers from shortfalls similar to those which have seen anything from high-end handbags to the latest Harry Potter get the fake treatment.

Blame lax regulation, weak coordination of supervisory responsibilities between the national and regional governments, poor product transparency and a general lack of public awareness and understanding of intellectual property rights.

Since entering the World Trade Organisation, China has tried to stiffen regulations, as well as strengthen law enforcement in cases in which the regulations have been breached.

And last month, 13 departments under the State Council formed a special task force to crack down on the fake drugs industry, with a focus on targeting the promotional activities of counterfeiters on the internet and other delivery channels.

Nevertheless, the execution of a former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, for accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies two years ago, serves as a reminder that the problems run to the highest levels of government. They won’t be fixed overnight.

But at least the authorities aren’t alone in battling against the forgers.

A Shanghai native by the name of Gao Jinde has devoted all his time to the crackdown on knock-offdrugs, after becoming sick from taking faulty medicine.

Between 2004 and 2007, Gao reported 105 cases of counterfeit drugs to the authorities.

Apparently, Gao is so feared in the fake drug business that the counterfeiters have circulated a photo of their tormentor, in order to best avoid him.


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