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Tuesday,  Oct 24,2017,16:28 (GMT+7)

For the sake of procedures

Son Nguyen
Friday,  May 12,2017,09:54 (GMT+7)
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For the sake of procedures

Son Nguyen

The question about responsibility in the case of a batch of expensive cancer medicine being destroyed due to expiration has remained unanswered, as all related agencies stress that they have observed all required procedures.

That paperwork lasted as long as one year, and when the donated medicine was imported, the expiry date was near, with just ten months left.

The case was uncovered when HCMC inspectors found that nearly 20,000 pills of Tasigna at the HCMC Blood Transfusion and Hematology have all expired and must be destroyed. The batch was donated by The Max Foundation of the U.S. and Swiss drug firm Novartis Pharma Services to the HCMC Blood Transfusion and Hematology.

As widely covered in local media, it is the lengthy procedures for the import of this batch that have cut short the shelf life of the medicine.

In July 2013, the two donors sent a letter to the local hospital expressing their intention to donate over 34,000 Tasigna pills. Three months later, the hospital wrote to the Drug Administration of Vietnam asking for approval to accept the drug. The administration two weeks later approved the proposal provided that the hospital had to complete the required procedures. Then the hospital wrote to the HCMC Department of Health seeking permission, according to Lao Dong newspaper.

Three months later, the HCMC Department of Health informed the city government of its approval of the donation. Another three months elapsed when the city government gave the go-ahead. The procedures also involved other agencies, including the HCMC Union of Friendship Associations and the HCMC Department of Finance.

After all such paperwork had been done, the Drug Administration of Vietnam gave the final say on the import on July 14, 2014, and it took two more months before the hospital prescribed the first pills to patients on September 27, 2014. So, the batch could not be used up in such a short span of time.

Nguyen Tan Binh, director of the HCMC Department of Health, remarks in VTC News that the total length of time to complete all such procedures amounted to 13 months and eight days.

Despite such a time length, all agencies concerned deny responsibility.

An official of the Ministry of Health’s Planning-Finance Department clarifies in Tuoi Tre newspaper that the procedures are transparent for donated drugs. First, the recipient makes a petition to the Drug Administration, then seek permission from the provincial Health Department and the local government, and obtain a confirmation of donation at the provincial or municipal Finance Department. Many other localities have performed such procedures, but the problem is only seen in HCMC. The ministry representative furthers that in this case, the total time length for processing at the Drug Administration was three months, while the total processing time at the HCMC Department of Health, the HCMC Union of Friendship Associations and the HCMC government took around six months.

Right in the aftermath of the case, the HCMC customs has stressed that customs clearance for the batch took only one day, while the city’s Department of Health says procedures at the department took only three days longer than regulated.

Similarly, the Drug Administration asserts there was nothing wrong with procedures, according to Tuoi Tre. Each procedure handled by the administration took no more than 15 working days, within the permissible duration.

The HCMC Union of Friendship Associations, meanwhile, says that it did not receive any documents from the city’s Department of Health for a long time, and when the blood transfusion hospital sent a representative to the union on June 4, 2014 to work on the issue, the union immediately gave its approval, according to Vnexpress. Despite this assertion, the Department of Health said it had sent a correspondence to both the municipal government and the union on March 10, 2014.

The HCMC Blood Transfusion and Hematology Hospital itself also rejects accusations of its delays in completing the required procedures, although VTC News points out that the total length for the hospital to conduct negotiations and prepare dossiers took up to four months and 11 days.

Arguments will likely continue in the coming time as central authorities have demanded a thorough probe into the case. No matter how the case will unfold in the coming time, the performance by related agencies have come under heavy criticism.

Vu Tien Loc, president of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says in Dan Tri news website that the way related agencies performed their duties show their “top-rated unsympathetic and irresponsible administrative behaviors.”

Meanwhile, Le Manh Ha, vice chairman of the Government Office, says on the news website that “taking one year to perform administrative procedures is abnormal.”

An official of the Ministry of Health’s Planning-Finance Department, despite the involvement of an agency of the ministry in the case, says in Tuoi Tre that what competent agencies in HCMC have done are inflexible and mechanical, affecting many cancer patients.

All the protracted procedures show that “the sense of responsibility and awareness of civil servants are problematic,” Lawyer Pham Van Chung is quoted by Tuoi Tre.

It is noteworthy that this is not a single case related to donated drugs. Vietnamnet refers to the case of the HCMC Oncology and Tumors Hospital having to destroy 267 Nexavar pills donated to the hospital that had expired. The reason is that this medicine had previously been used to treat cancer patients covered by medical insurance at no charge, but due to legal changes, patients had to bear half of the expenses, and many patients had refused the expensive treatment.

In an editorial, Lao Dong says that “we have had so many examples on consequences of administrative procedures, but this time, procedures were prolonged until the medicine expired, which is unspeakable.”

Billions of Vietnam dong has been lost, and tens of patients have succumbed to the deadly blood cancer disease due to the lack of proper medicine while the batch of 20,000 pills of Tasigna was to be destroyed. The regrettable case, therefore, reckons a thorough review of administrative procedures and a new approach. State agencies cannot continue their work practice like this for the sake of procedures.

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