Vietnam to destroy expired Tamiflu amid controversy

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The Ministry of Health has ordered the destruction of a controversial reserve of over 9.7 million capsules of Oseltamivir (aka Tamiflu), Tuoi Tre reported Monday.


The reserve is estimated to be worth some VND280 billion (US$14.3 million) in total.


According to the local newspaper, news of the edict came from an unnamed source from the ministry.


Four local manufacturers began producing the capsules at the ministry's request, starting in 2006.


Since then, a mere 100,000 capsules have been distributed to cities and towns throughout the country. It is unclear whether or not the distributed capsules were ever used, Tuoi Tre reported.


Following the drug cache's expiration in February, 2008 the ministry extended the date.


The reserve was ordered and purchased as part of a VND562-billion ($28.8 million) project to build up a reserve of 20 million Tamiflu capsules to battle the avian flu epidemic in Vietnam in 2005-2006.


Last week, the apparent boondoggle grabbed headlines when government inspectors accused that the ministry and four local drug makers of wasting financial resources.


In a report published prior to the dust-up, government inspectors accused the Ministry of deliberately overestimating the need for the medicine in a proposal it sumbitted to the government in November 2005. At that time, Vietnam had only recorded 91 cases of influenza A (H5N1) virus between 2003-2005.


The ministry didn't stipulate a maximum price for the raw materials placing orders with the drugs companies, the inspectors charged. Instead, the domestic drug firms were left to buy materials from India at $17,500-18,000 per kilogram --nearly 50 percent more than offered by a Swiss company.


Investigators also accused the companies of receiving over $6 million in questionable reiumbursements from their suppliers, and failing to report the exchange to the government.


Tran Thi Trung Chien, the former Minister of Health who nominaly oversaw the project, responded that the investigation was incomplete and failed to demonstrate corruption and/or violations of purchasing procedures.


The four local drug manufacturers also denied the inspectors' accusations, saying that the re-imbursements did not amount to kickbacks and were, instead, a legitimate part of an extended payment plan.

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