Food- and drug-safety problems in China are serious incidents when they occur, although Chinese authorities are finding themselves under fire from netizens who question the fairness of some of the punishments.
When a public hospital in Shandong Province that sold fake medicine recently was fined a slight amount, many Chinese netizens expressed anger over the lenient sanction for selling fake drugs. Dazhong Net, a state-run news site, reported on Aug. 11 that the Qingdao City Chengyang District People’s Hospital was hit with a 692.5 yuan (about $100) fine for selling phony dried citrus peel, a type of traditional Chinese medicine commonly used to alleviate coughing and phlegm.
Meanwhile, two other incidents in other parts of the country provide a stark contrast in the level of punishment received.
Two street food vendors in Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province, added baking powder to flour for making deep-fried breadsticks that contained aluminum, exceeding the standard by nearly 10 times and 6 times, respectively. They were fined more than 140,000 yuan ($20,260) and 230,000 yuan ($33,280), respectively, by the Lianhu District Court in Xi’an, according to an Aug. 10 report by Hua-shang Newspaper, a state-run newspaper in Xi’an.
In addition, a cancer patient, Zhai Yiping, was detained after helping other patients he met on the internet purchase anti-cancer drugs from Germany, according to China Youth Daily, another state-run newspaper, on Aug. 14. Domestic-made drugs are often seen as unsafe, so many citizens turn to foreign drugs instead. However, foreign drugs sold in China often are prohibitively expensive, due to high import duties and other restrictions imposed by Beijing,
Zhai was detained at the Shanghai Detention Center on charges of “selling fake drugs.” He has helped liver cancer patients buy PD-1 and Lenvatinib drugs from Germany since 2016, as some terminal cancer patients couldn’t find any other effective treatment in China at the time, according to China Youth Daily.
Zhai told his lawyer that he didn’t know that helping others purchase cancer drugs from foreign countries would constitute the crime of selling fake drugs.
Some of the patients in the internet chat group where Zhai met his fellow cancer patients questioned how it could be that while domestic medicines in China—such as those sold by the Shandong hospital—are often fake and result in dangerous side effects, an effective medicine purchased from other countries could be considered fake, according to the China Youth Daily report.
Article 48 of the Drug Administration Law in China stipulates that drugs that haven’t been approved for production, import, or inspection within China’s borders are considered fake drugs.
A recent hit movie highlighted this issue, with its depiction of a man who began smuggling Indian generic anti-cancer drugs into China after he was unable to afford drugs made by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. Observers noted that the film’s release was a tactic by the Chinese regime to incite hatred against foreign countries, placing blame on foreign companies for the lofty price tag on life-saving drugs—despite Beijing’s own pricing policies that drive up prices.
According to the World Health Organization, one-tenth of the world’s manufactured drugs are counterfeit. In Africa, where roughly 100,000 people die from such counterfeit drugs annually, 70 percent of those counterfeits come mainly from India and China.