BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday it was relaxing drug laws to give greater leniency to people who import small amounts of medicines unapproved in China but sold legally overseas.
Under the previous law, such drugs were classified as “fake drugs”. Those caught importing unapproved medicines were considered drug smugglers and faced heavy penalties.
The change is part of wider revisions to drugs laws and authorities said it recognized how some Chinese, unable to afford expensive foreign-made, brand-name drugs, were turning to the grey market to buy cheaper generic versions that had not been approved by local regulators.
The issue was highlighted last year by the movie “Dying To Survive”, which was based on the real-life case of a Chinese leukemia patient who was jailed for smuggling cheaper alternatives from India to a treatment by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.
The movie stirred intense online debate over the efficiency of China’s healthcare system and prompted China’s leaders to call for action.
“I think it is definitely a response to society’s concern over the issue,” said Yuan Jie, an official at the Legislative Affairs Commission of the standing committee of National People’s Congress at a press conference on Monday when asked about the change in the law.
Beijing has been trying to reduce out-of-pocket costs for drugs, including cancer treatments. It has put more medicines on its national medical insurance schemes and cut import tariffs, for example.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Brenda Goh, Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Neil Fullick)