Wed, Dec 04, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Infant formula redux

Hong Kong’s illegal cancer drug trade is driven by Chinese buyers who don’t trust their own medical system

By Celine GE  /  AFP, HONG KONG

But despite the threat of prosecution, the trade continues.

When an AFP reporter visited four small independent pharmacies in Hong Kong and asked for 440mg of Herceptin, all offered to sell it without a prescription.

SUPPLY BURDEN

Tse Hung-hing, President of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said he feared the consequences of the uncontrolled sale of such strong medication.

“They [anti-cancer drugs] are more toxic. It is not like you are buying Panadol,” he said.

Tse added that the organization had reported the problem to Hong Kong’s Department of Health, but had not seen a significant response.

Pharmacies tend to buy their cancer drugs from private doctors as a safer route than getting them direct from drugs companies, as direct orders are likely to be more closely monitored by the authorities, says Chui.

The Hong Kong branch of Roche, which manufactures Herceptin, said it had been “made aware” of reports of Chinese visitors coming over to buy oncology drugs.

“We are committed to supporting the relevant authorities with any investigations,” it said in a statement to AFP.

According to a 2012 report released by the China National Cancer Registry, the country sees 3.12 million new cancer cases every year.

From 2006 to 2010, the number of cancer cases in Hong Kong rose at an average rate of 2.7 percent each year, four times more than the annual population growth rate, a report by Hong Kong Cancer Registry showed.

Chui believes the increasing pressure on Hong Kong’s cancer drug supply could soon reach crisis point.

“The majority of community pharmacies in Hong Kong are owned by businessmen rather than professional pharmacists,” he said.

“There is a high-probability that, in up to three years, the supply of anti-cancer drugs will become an issue.”

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