An Indian drug supplier tells all about selling generic medicine in China

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/2 15:18:39

An Indian tells his story of selling generic drugs from India through WeChat. Photo: IC

Cheap generic drugs from India are attracting lower income Chinese patients. Photo: IC

While the e-business model based on social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo is booming in China, an Indian man named Dheeraj (pseudonym) also joined the large community of WeChat business owners selling some of his nation's most famous products, generic drugs.

"I have almost all the cancer medicine stock in China. These are all Chinese oncology doctor prescribed medicines I offer; I do not sell medicine without a prescription," Dheeraj said. "My customers in China include Chinese and foreigners."

According to Dheeraj, he studied in China to become a doctor and has now returned to India to work. He has a pharmacy in India and a medicine business in China with the help of his Chinese friend, a respiratory doctor in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.

India has always been dubbed as the "world's pharmacy," mainly because of its generic drugs - a pharmaceutical drug that is equivalent to a brand-name product in dosage, strength, route of administration, quality, performance and intended use, but does not carry the brand name. The Indian government has granted compulsory licenses for expensive drugs so Indian manufacturers can produce these drugs without fear of being prosecuted under patent law.

According to a Bloomberg report, India's branded drugs and other medical products' overseas sales volume is $11.6 billion, while the country's overseas sales volume of generic drugs reached $16.4 billion in 2016, which is higher than the sales for brand-name drugs.

India's generic drugs have been attracting patients from around the world for their low costs. In China, the generic drugs are attracting a growing number of low income sick Chinese patients to travel to India for the drugs, or turn to purchasing them through an agent like Dheeraj.

"There are many people selling generic drugs from Indian in China through WeChat, and most of the sellers are Chinese. However, most of the drugs the Chinese are selling are fake," Dheeraj said. "There are some Indians that also sell generic drugs in China, and most of them are students in China."

Indian WeChat business owner

"I have 2,193 contacts on my WeChat in China, and nearly all of them are my customers," Dheeraj said while showing a screenshot of his WeChat friends list.

Then he sent over another screenshot showing that there are dozens of people who have requested to add his WeChat, but he has not had time to add them yet. "There are so many clients still waiting now," he said.

When questioned about whether he is truly from India, Dheeraj said, "I am an Indian, and my name is Dheeraj. You can call me through WeChat if you don't believe me." Then, he sent over two videos of his pharmacy in India and his Indian employees.

From the screenshots he sent to the reporter, we can also see the telecommunications operator is jio, a 4G network in India, which was further proof that he is from India.

To find out more, the reporter from Metropolitan pretended to be a buyer who wanted to purchase medicine called Glivec, which is used to treat chronic myelogenous leukemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumor.

The original Glivec produced by Swedish pharmaceutical company Novartis costs 23,500 yuan ($3,400) per box in China, which is only a month's dosage, according to a report by the Global Times in January 2015.

However, the equivalent drugs made by the Indian company NATCO only cost around 1,000 yuan per box. The price can even be lowered to 200 yuan per box if purchased in bulk directly from the manufactures, according to the same Global Times report.

"Most Chinese people prefer Glivec produced by NATCO; I sell it at 2,700 yuan per box," Dheeraj said. "We have storage in China, and you can get the medicine in three days by Shunfeng express courier," he said.

When questioned about why his drugs are so expensive when other sellers only ask for 1,000 yuan for the drug, Dheeraj argues that there are so many "fake" Indian drugs on the market, and he does not do that.

"I don't sell fake or cheap products," Dheeraj said. "I am a doctor, not only a seller, and even doctors buy from me because they know the exact cost."

Then he sent over a screenshot showing him doing business with an Indian doctor, and it seems that this doctor is currently in China, since Dheeraj is using the Shunfeng express service to deliver the Indian doctor his drugs, and the sender's information is filed out in Chinese.

"Don't bargain for medicine. It's cancer medicine; please don't buy cheap medicine that kills people," Dheeraj said.

The Indian WeChat business owner told a gruesome story to prevent the reporter from bargaining. According to Dheeraj, there was a Chinese girl who contacted him for another kind of medicine.

"Before she bought the medicine from me, she bought cheaper medicine from another local Chinese seller. The patient's blood pressure increased and her nose started to bleed after she took that medicine," Dheeraj said.

Then Dheeraj sent over a couple of screenshots of the WeChat conversation to prove the story was true.

In the screenshots, the Chinese buyer called Sophie told Dheeraj that after the patient (her friend's mom) took the medicine bought from Dheeraj, all of the previous symptoms were gone, she can eat and sleep well and her aches from her condition also eased.

"The medicine works like magic; I trust you so much," the buyer told Dheeraj.

To further prove his trustworthiness, Dheeraj also sent over his Chinese partner's WeChat account, the so-called Chinese doctor.

The Chinese doctor wrote in Chinese that they import the drugs from India in bulk, so the price is lower.

Breaking the law

Agents that channel Chinese patients and generic Indian drugs have long existed before Indians like Dheeraj.

According to a report by news portal in December 2014, the business of buying and selling generic drugs from Indian has become an enormous underground market. Some Chinese purchasing agents provide the purchasing invoice to prove the authenticity of the drugs and some local Indians have also started to act as purchasing agents to mail the drugs from India to China directly.

However, the choice of being a purchasing agent became more dangerous since generic drugs are illegal in China because they are not officially approved. According to the country's drug administration laws, such drugs are regarded as counterfeit and selling those drugs is illegal.

In September 2013, two Chinese couples were arrested in Guangdong Province. They were charged with the crime of selling "fake drugs" which referred to the drugs they had brought back from India that were labeled "fake" because the drugs had not been licensed by Chinese authorities.

On October 9, 2013, the Fangshan district court in Beijing sentenced a Chinese man to eight months behind bars and a penalty of 2,000 yuan, for buying drugs from India to make profit.

The most well-known case of all is when Lu Yong, a leukemia patient, was arrested and charged in January 2015 for selling fake drugs to over 1,000 patients like himself. The patients he sold drugs to petitioned the court to release him.

"I know it's illegal to sell generic drugs in China. I wish we didn't have to do this, but some patients do need the drugs. If I was not available, many patients would have to travel to India to get the drugs," Dheeraj said.

"I hope China and other countries will allow generic drugs soon. I also hope there won't be so many fake generic drugs on the market. Nobody should ever play with patients' life when they are already sick."

Newspaper headline: The drug market


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