Vietnam inspectors stick to Tamiflu scandal findings

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A senior government inspectorate official has asserted that the agency stands by their conclusions on the scandal involving the health ministry's Tamiflu reserves piled up in 2005-2006 despite criticism.

 

The official, who wished to stay unnamed, made the statement in an interview with Thanh Nien Thursday, after Tran Thi Trung Chien, former minister of the Ministry of Health, charged that the investigation was incomplete and didn't have enough evidence showing related people's corruption and/or violations.

 

He said what Chien told the press Thursday was the same as what she had explained to inspectors before they announced their conclusions to the press.

 

"Government inspectors have come to conclusion and proposed that the Prime Minister deals with it, so [we won't] make any comment to argue with [Chien and four companies] or show our viewpoints, but wait for PM's decision," the official said.

 

Early this week, the inspectors announced that the ministry and four domestic drug manufacturers had wastefully used financial resources in a VND562-billion ($28.8 million) project to store 20 million capsules of Oseltamivir (aka Tamiflu) in 2005-2006 to fight the avian flu epidemic.

 

They accused the ministry of making excessive estimations in its proposal to the government in November, 2005, considering Vietnam had recorded only 91 cases of influenza A (H5N1) virus between 2003-2005.

 

When placing orders with the drugs companies, the ministry didn't strike any deal on the prices of raw materials, allowing the companies to buy materials from India at $17,500-18,000 per kilogram, while prices quoted in the proposal were $12,000 per kilogram.

 

Investigators also accused the companies of receiving reimbursement of over $6 million from their suppliers, and failing to report this to the government.

 

Media investigation later showed that in 2005, the ministry had signed an agreement to buy 25 million capsules of Tamiflu from Roche Chemical Establishments Ltd., representative office of the F. Hoffman-La Roche company.

 

Claiming that Roche couldn't provide the materials in time, with Vietnam wanting to complete procurement by June 30, 2006, the ministry then struck deals with the four companies.

 

The companies, in turn, ordered Indian materials at nearly double the price offered by Roche, with a shelf-life of two-years as opposed to Roche's ten years.

 

In February 2009, 9.7 million capsules of Tamiflu and raw materials to produce another 10 million capsules expired, while the number of bird flu cases recorded in the nation was just 116 as of March, 2009.

 

New arguments

 

In the meantime, after claiming the reimbursements from suppliers weren't commissions, the four drug companies Friday continued to raise questions about the inspectors' conclusions in a press release.

 

The companies are Phu Yen Medical Equipment and Pharmaceutical (Pymepharco), Cuu Long Pharmaceutical Joint Stock Corporation (Pharimexco), Imexpharm Pharmaceutical Joint Stock Company, and Stada Vietnam Company.

 

They said while they bought raw materials at higher prices offered by Roche, they provided drugs to the ministry at $1.75 a capsule. Roche, meanwhile, offered them at $2.49 per capsule to the ministry, they said.

 

According to the companies, they couldn't buy raw materials from Roche because Vietnam wasn't named in the company's priority list.

 

Moreover, the company in February 2006 refused to provide materials to Japan, US and Canada as orders exceeded its capacity, while it had been predicted that the epidemic would peak in Vietnam between March and April, they said.

 

The companies also denied that raw materials from Roche had a shelf-life of ten years, saying it was baseless.

 

On August 18, 2009 the World Health Organization allowed local drug administrations to have full authorization to extend Tamiflu's expiration date.

 

Countries like US and Canada then extended the expiry date of Tamiflu reserves by another two years. However, under Vietnamese law, new drugs cannot have expiration dates longer than two years in their first production, even when raw materials can be used for more than five years.

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