(Yicai Global) July 5 -- The ruins costs of medicine prompt the stark question of whether to seek treatment for sufferers of serious sicknesses.
One faces the Hobson’s choice of either taking these exorbitant medications, unaffordable for ordinary families, or of not doing so, in which case life cannot continue. The movie Dying to Survive depicts this dilemma. It debuted last month at the Shanghai International Film Festival and is still in preview screenings, drawing wide attention.
The film narrates the story of a leukemia patient looking for a low-cost generic drug made in India as he cannot afford a branded life-saving drug.
The anti-cancer drug the film references is Gleevec in the real world, a drug Swiss drug-maker Novartis developed and produces. China’s introduction of a medical insurance scheme and the lapse of the drug’s patent protection mean Gleevec is no longer an astronomically-priced drug. It now costs just over CNY1,000 per month, as against tens of thousands before.
The film was adapted from the real-life story of Lu Yong. Lu took a generic drug rather than a branded one because of his inability to afford the high priced one. His case sparked widespread concern and heated debate. Though the price of the medicine has since fallen, he still takes the unbranded Indian one now for a simple reason, cheap price, Lu said in a media interview yesterday.
Lu was diagnosed with chronic myelocytic leukemia in 2002. As finding a match for a bone marrow transplant takes time, he was prescribed Gleevec to stabilize the condition. The Swiss-made drug was clinically effective, but very expensive, costing nearly CNY300,000 a year. Lu learned by chance that India had a generic version of Gleevec that cost only about CNY48,000 a year. He contacted an Indian supplier to buy the drug directly based on the information appearing on the medicine vial. Lu found the Indian drug very effective and told others about it, which elicited a flood of responses. Patients contacted him seeking help. "I just tell them how to buy it. I don't actually buy it for them, but since they lack the means to make the payment [in India], I help them with that, too” Lu said. This credit card payment assistance service caused the police in Yuanjiang in China’s central Hunan province to unexpectedly detain Lu in November 2013. The local district attorney charged Lu with the crime of impairing credit card administration and selling bogus drugs. Nearly 1,000 leukemia patients jointly petitioned the court to spare Lu criminal punishment. The prosecutor ultimately dropped the charges and the court also dismissed the case.
"I’m feeling fine now and am taking medicine every day," Lu said. He still takes the Indian drug, which now costs less than CNY300 per month. As each patient’s circumstances are different, Lu is unsure which prescriptions other patients choose to take now. "Very few people are looking for me to buy for them now. I think this is a good thing." The government's medical reform has been very fast and praiseworthy, Lu said. "Looking back over the past three years, tremendous changes have been afoot. We want to laud the government's efforts, including zero tariffs on imported anti-cancer drugs and shortened drug registration time, all of which benefit people's lives,” he added.
The reform, embodied in China's 13th Five-Year Plan, seeks to establish an effective medical security system covering the entire population with better fundraising, insurance, portability of basic medical insurance and improved coverage for major diseases, state news agency Xinhua reported in January last year.
Editor: Ben Armour