Albumin prepared from human plasma, a medicine given to patients recovering from major surgery and other emergency treatments, is now believed to be in short supply across the country.
Shortages in the supply of albumin have occurred several times this year, according to Cai Weimin from the pharmaceutical department of Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai.
Albumin is used to treat serious injuries such as severe burns, cerebral damage or acute liver or kidney problems.
At the moment, Ruijin Hospital receives about 3,000 bottles of albumin a month, about half of what is needed. The hospital must strictly monitor its use to ensure that those patients who need the medication most receive it.
"The factory is empty. Nobody's in," a worker at the Shanghai Institute of Biological Products (SIBP), a producer of albumin, told China Daily.
The shortage of albumin has become a nationwide problem.
Earlier this year, food and drug officials in Jilin Province discovered that fake albumin was circulating in the market. Further investigation showed that the medication actually contained Tween-80, which has some similarities to albumin but can cause serious allergic reactions and endanger patients' lives.
No fake albumin has been found in the Shanghai market.
A few weeks ago, SIBP sold a limited supply of albumin. Hundreds of people had waited overnight to buy some of the medication.
However, a signboard was recently posted on the gates of SIBP saying that the company had "sold out" all of its albumin.
Li Wanhua, deputy Party secretary of SIBP, told Shanghai OTV Widewatch that the shortage was largely due to the lack of one vital raw material - human blood.
"Donated blood is for clinical use only," said Lu Jinong, spokesperson for the Shanghai Blood Administration Office. "We don't supply blood for medicine production."
Li told OTV that the company received blood as a raw material from blood banks that pay people to make donations.
State-level public health administrators closed many such blood banks to ensure blood quality, as well as to stop the spread of diseases caused by illegal blood collection.
SIBP has collected only about a quarter of the blood it did last year, Li told OTV. The shortage has forced the factory to halt production. The factory has operated for only two of the first six months of this year.
Li added that most of these paid blood banks are located in the under-developed mid-western parts of the country. As economic growth spreads, and as many farmers have left home to become migrant workers in cities, the number of people willing to donate blood has declined.
(China Daily August 14, 2007)