The diabetes and weight loss drug Mediator, recently linked to 500 deaths worldwide, and banned in some Europe countries is still being sold widely in Vietnam.
The French Health Minister had recently warned any users of the drug "” the brand name for benflourex in France "” between 2006 and 2009 to see their doctor and get tested immediately for heart valve damage.
It followed a warning by France's drug safety body l'Afssaps on Mediator's active ingredient benfluorex. Since its launch in 1976, "analyses by expert epidemiologists estimate that about 500 deaths could be attributable to benfluorex," it said.
The drug, produced by France-based pharmaceutical giant Servier, has been banned in France, the United States, Spain and Italy.
The European Medicines Agency pulled benflourex from the market November last year, saying it had little effect on diabetes and might lead to a dangerous thickening of heart valves.
Meanwhile Vietnam Drug Administration at the Health Ministry issued a statement on August 30 this year calling for the withdrawal of the drug's registration, only after requested by Servier.
Local health agencies and hospitals only received the order about withdrawing the registration two weeks after that.
And the administration still allows the batches that are produced before August 30 to be sold until they expire.
A pharmacist named M. in Ho Chi Minh City said according to the administration, many Mediator batches will still be on the market for three to four years from now.
The pharmacist said the administration might be helping importers to sell all the drugs they have bought. "Then what about people's health?"
Several pharmacies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City said they haven't received any notice from the authorities, but were only informed in recent months by Mediator distributors that they would stop supplying the drug.
Most users were not updated about possible dangers of the drug but only know that it is no longer sold overseas. Thus many drug stores in HCMC have been charging more for the tablets.
Mediator has been sold on Vietnam market for around 20 years. It has been used by around 5 million people worldwide since 1976.