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New Concerns over Drug Price Comparison
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A list throwing drug prices produced by domestic factories and by joint ventures into sharp relief has reignited the powder keg of debate on drug prices.

Yifeng Drugstore, one of China's top 50 drug retailers in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, compared 43 commonly-used drugs and discovered that prices for drugs with identical compositions vary widely according to brands.

The worst offender was Captopril with a pa ckage of 100*25mg tablets made by Changzhou Pharmaceutical Factory sold for 3.4 yuan, while a package of 100*12.5mg tablets made by Sino-American Shanghai Squibb Pharmaceuticals Ltd. were being sold at a staggering 148 yuan, 87 times higher. Most price gaps ranged around the six to eight times higher range.

"We hope every customer visiting our store will see the truth. The list was made for their convenience," said one of Yifeng Drugstore's employees.

It took the staff three days to compile the list of 43 drugs, including roxithromycin and acetaminophen, which account for 10.66 percent of daily sales.

Ironically, drugs made by joint ventures are still more popular on the sales market, with their domestic suffering from a lack of brand name staying power. An example is given by the 533 monthly sales of Bayer China-made packages of nifedipine at 32.5 yuan apiece, while its domestically-produced counterparts sell only 26 packages a month, despite being cheaper at 16.5 yuan.

"Most customers know little about medicine ingredients and their effects and thus tend to trust so-called famous brands," said Zhou Aimin, a manager at a Yifeng Drugstore, adding that many cheaper domestically-made drugs are just as effective.

Yifeng called on retailers to set up a drugstore union which would be an effective middle man between drug suppliers and customers. Currently, drug prices are only set by local commissions that host a bidding process. Hospitals also sell drugs at a 15 percent mark-up cost as permitted by regulations. The argument supporting these moves is that if retail prices are lower than the average regional prices, retailers may find their supply drying up as producers take their business elsewhere.

Therefore, an industrial union is essential to allow retailers to shake off their chains and provide customers with cheap drugs, according to industry insiders.

(China.org.cn by Huang Shan, August 3, 2007)

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