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China to Cut Retail Prices of Drugs
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China will lower prices on 182 modern, or Western-style, medicines in its latest effort to provide more affordable drugs, the country's economic planning body announced on Tuesday.

The new price caps involved more than 1,200 specific products, covering drugs for treating digestive and respiratory ailments, painkillers, and anesthetic and neural medicines, said a National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) statement.

The price cuts, averaging 19 percent, would save consumers a total of about five billion yuan (US$649 million) and would take effect on May 15, the NDRC said.

Some medicines would see price cuts of up to 62 percent.

The statement also announced that prices of 18 drugs that are in short supply would be raised "moderately" in order to encourage production and supply.

On March 7, NDRC Minister Ma Kai said many medicines were still over-priced despite several price reductions and the medical system needed systematic reforms to ensure medicines were more affordable.

"The drug market is actually very chaotic and many medicines have their names changed to avoid price cuts," he said.

Ma said the government would reform the system that required hospitals to make money by selling medicines. He also wanted problems in drug production and distribution addressed and to correct irregularities in the approval of new medicines.

So far, about 1,500 medicines have had their prices fixed by the central government and the prices of more than 800 drugs are determined by local governments.

Since the start of 2006, the central government has lowered prices of more than 900 drugs and raised the costs of more than 70 cheap medicines.

Starting from May 1, governments at various levels are required to publish investigations into food and drug safety among other information crucial to the public interest, within 20 working days.

(Xinhua News Agency May 9, 2007)

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