Antibiotic Deaths Lead to Lack of Faith in Chinese Medicines

By Xu Bo, Voice of America
August 11, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: August 11, 2006 12:00 am

WASHINGTON — Xinfo, a new antibiotic made by a pharmaceutical factory in Anhui province, China, has caused six deaths so far. This is the second batch of dangerous antibiotics to have claimed lives, stirring up public panic and anger. On August 8, 2006, Chinese authorities announced three more deaths caused by taking Xinfo, bringing the death toll to six. Authorities are still investigating whether a potential seventh case died of Xinfo.

According to Chinese official media, on July 27, Qinghai province reported the first Xinfo-related case to the Ministry of Health. On the same day, a 6-year-old girl died just three days after she was injected with the antibiotic. The Chinese Ministry of Health sent out an urgent notice on August, 3, asking people stop using the drug. However, the damage was already done, with more than 80 reported cases of serious reactions to Xinfo in over ten provinces.

China's state-run media commented in their report that “Xinfo shares almost the same pronunciation as happiness in Chinese, yet it has indeed disturbed people's happy life.”

The Xinfo deaths are not an isolated event. About two months ago, a pharmaceutical factory in Qiqihaer produced an antibiotic injection that resulted in 11 deaths. After the media exposure of Xinfo and the Qiqihaer deaths, public opinion showed that the people severely doubted the government's ability to successfully supervise and manage the health system.

Hu Xingdou, an expert on problem-sinology and a professor of College of Humanities at Beijing University of Science and Technology, deemed that the high frequency of fatal medical accidents reflects the faults within the Chinese medical system, society, and culture. “The major problem is displayed in the supervision and management of the government,” said Hu.

Hu said, “The authorities are trying to clarify and emphasize that they have met their responsibility. Yet it can be confirmed that the government does have problems in that it approves too many new medicines every year without proper research. The existence of these many new medicines proves the problem in itself.”

“Because the government does not set high standards when examining the research and the production of the medicine, every pharmaceutical factory produces and promotes various new medicines, using bad techniques to manufacture poor quality medicine without taking the safety of human life into consideration,” said Zhong Dajun, the director of Dajun Center for Economic Watch & Studies in Beijing.

“The biggest problem is that there are many enterprises entering the medical arena without proper qualifications. They then produce and promote their products in the market, causing damage to society,” said Zhong Dajun.

After the Xinfo tragedies were exposed, the national and the Anhui province-level Food and Drug Administrations carried out investigations into the Anhui Huayuan pharmaceutical factory. They investigated the raw materials, the production process, and the examination of the finished products. Nevertheless, ten days have passed, and the results are still unknown.