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With drugs having to pass through several layers of distribution channels ranging from importers to pharmacies, Vietnamese consumers are forced to pay up to seven times their original prices.
Tuoi Tre tracked the path of a Bangladesh-made drug, Maxazith Suspension 20ml, from a distribution company until it reached a hospital in Hanoi and found how prices rise from dirt cheap to exorbitant.
According to its customs declaration, pharmaceutical company PM imported 1,000 boxes of Maxzith at US$0.75 (VND16,000) each.
PM sold them to TA Company, another pharmaceutical firm, at VND32,000 each.
When the medicines reached PV Pharmaceutical Company, the price rose to VND71,238 a box.
PV sold 104 boxes to the hospital pharmacy at VND92,380, before the final link in the chain, the patient, paid VND106,500.
Many other pharmaceutical products go through the same process, leaving people wondering why the Ministry of Health, despite knowing about the process, does not crack down on it.
The ministry has been talking about it since 2003, but has not done anything except draft a decree on medicine prices which has yet to be issued despite being promised for the fourth quarter of last year.
The decree envisages a ceiling on the profits earned by importers and wholesalers.
If it took effect, distributors would not be allowed to sell medicines at seven or eight times the original prices, the ministry said.