Vietnamese cancer patients walk a tightrope as vital medical aid runs dry

By Nam Phuong   January 17, 2018 | 01:48 am PT
Vietnamese cancer patients walk a tightrope as vital medical aid runs dry
Medical staff prepare medicine for cancer patients at a hospital in Hanoi. Photo by Vietnam Television
Subsidized medication from Switzerland has been held up by excessive red tap in Vietnam.

Thousands of leukemia patients in Vietnam have had their medication cut due to a shortage of subsidized supplies from Swiss manufacturer Novartis.

Around 500 patients at the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion in Hanoi are taking one or two Glivec pills a day instead of their normal doses of three.

Some patients in Saigon are also facing the same situation.

Glivec is the trade name for imatinib, a drug used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia and acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Bach Quoc Khanh, director of the Hanoi institute, said there is no alternative for the medicine, but patients can survive on lower doses for a short period of time.

Glivec is sold in Vietnam for VND400,000 ($18) a pill, a price barely affordable in a country where people made an average income of $2,380 in 2017.

In 2010, the health ministry reached an agreement with Novartis for the manufacturer to subsidize 60 percent of the price while the rest would be covered by Vietnam's health insurance scheme. This meant patients with insurance coverage had access to free medication.

However, a government decision effective in July last year demanded more paperwork for imports of subsidized medicine, which created an obstacle for Glivec. The producer was asked to provide pharmaceutical and manufacturing certificates, along with a technical profile that included confidential production details.

Norvatis said it had been unable to prepare the documents, prompting Vietnam's government to lift the requirements last week.

Thanks to the decision, new supplies could arrive in the next two weeks, Khanh said.

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