Another scandal has hit China’s healthcare sector and pharmaceutical industry. Experts blame corruption and lack of controls. President Xi Jinping calls for certain and severe penalties for those responsible. In eight years, there have been many fatalities linked to the sector.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Poor monitoring and corruption are the main causes of the repeated scandals that have swept China’s healthcare sector.
China’s main regulator, the National Institutes for Food and Drug Control, certifies medical drugs and food products comply with standards.
However, one of its former employees said that the official watchdog does not have enough staff to do its job. “We are the only institute in China that is capable of testing the quality and effectiveness of vaccines – not even provincial level testing institutes can do that,” the source said.
At the same time, “China produced more than 1 billion vaccines each year; the gap is huge. No country on earth has the manpower to test every batch of vaccines before releasing them into market.”
In fact, about 5 per cent of samples are tested, and even those that are tested are not examined for all effectiveness indicators.
Changsheng Biotech, which has been caught up in the latest scandal, is the country’s second largest vaccine maker.
An unannounced inspection in July found that the company forged production data, processing data and testing data, and exposed that is supplied ineffective DPT (diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) vaccines.
Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping called for an immediate investigation into substandard vaccines, claiming that pharmaceutical companies have crossed a "moral bottom line".
Changsheng Biotech’s chairwoman, Gao Junfang, and four senior executives, were taken away by police in Changchun for questioning.
The company has lost nearly half of its share value since the State Drug Administration uncovered its data forgery.
The company, based in Changchun, Jilin, was China’s second biggest supplier of rabies and chickenpox vaccines last year, according to its latest annual report.
It supplies government procurement centres with vaccines to be given to the public.
In China, compulsory vaccines such as DPT are given to children under a state-sponsored health programme at hospitals and disease control centres.
The scandal has also involved state officials who should monitor the industry. Court verdicts on China Judgments Online show officials accepted anywhere from thousands of yuan to hundreds of thousands of yuan to approve a vaccine.
Some officials at some Centres for Disease Controls also took kickbacks to introduce vaccines, the court records show.
One official who was only identified as “Xia” and used to head the vaccination programme at the Yuhua district CDC in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, accepted 100,000 yuan in bribes from a company that was not certified to sell vaccines.
The scandal involving Changsheng Biotech’s is but the latest in a string that goes back eight years.
In March 2010, in Shanxi province, about a hundred children died and others suffered permanent disabilities following vaccination.
In December 2013, 17 children died in Sichuan as a result of a hepatitis B vaccine. In this case, the authorities denied any connection between the deaths and vaccinations.
In August 2014, whole batches of rabies vaccine contaminated with poisonous substances were found in Liaoning.
Two years later, in Shandong, a pharmaceutical company distributed vaccines worth 260 million yuan across the country without respecting proper refrigeration procedures.