Former Deputy Minister of Health Doctor Le Van Truyen spoke with the Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper about why Vietnamese people are still hesitant to use domestically produced pharmaceuticals.

* Vietnamese people still don't want to use local drugs. Is it because local drugs lack quality?

The habit of preferring imported drugs over local ones by doctors and patients is due to many reasons, one of which is that it is a consumption habit of the Vietnamese.

Many local dug producers aren't transparent enough or provide enough evidence about the effects of their drugs compared with imported drugs. This is in spite of the significant milestones achieved by the country's medical and pharmaceutical industry.

This has deepened people's doubts on the effectiveness and reliability of local drugs.

I think treatment effects are a bigger factor informing the beliefs of doctors and patients rather than colourful branding and advertisements on mass media.

* Why does Vietnam still import specific drugs when some of the patents protecting these drugs have expired and these drugs could be made locally?

Most specific drugs used in specialised and central hospitals are drugs invented by multi-national pharmaceutical companies and still protected by patents - generally 20 years.

It would be prolonged to 25-30 years in bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements between developed and developing countries.

This prevents the local pharmaceutical industry from producing these specific drugs.

However, local drug producers should develop plans for the early research and exploitation of drugs with patent protections so that they can be produced as a generic drug when they are no longer protected.

To implement the plan, local producers should invest for the long-term in product research and development; and decide their mid-term and long-term product objectives that incorporate Vietnam's disease models and the timing of drug patents around the world.

* The quality of pharmaceutical products is yet to be proven and few local products are yet to be exported despite firms meeting World Health Organisation GMP (Good Manufacture Practice) standards. What are your thoughts on this?

Vietnam's pharmaceutical industry has developed strongly after 20 years of reform. The country has more than 130 GMP drug firms that supply around 50 percent of drug consumption. The pharmaceutical industry has reached growth of 12-15 percent per year, triple the GDP growth rate of recent years.

At the moment, there are around 12,000 locally manufactured generic drugs along with a similar number of imported drugs that has created a competitive environment in drug supply and prevented monopolies on drug pricing.

Locally made drugs have been produced on modern production lines meeting the GMP standards of the WHO, Vietnam and guidelines of developed countries like Japan, the US and the EU.

After nearly applying GMP-WHO quality management systems, some local producers volunteered to implement the GMP-PIC (Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme) standards designed to apply good manufacturing practices for medicinal products in developed countries participating in the PIC.

By applying GMP-PIC, drug quality would be improved and the country's pharmaceutical industry will gradually meet global standards. This will open the door to export local drugs to developed countries creating opportunities for local firms who can capitalise on the fact that GMP-PIC is recognised by developed countries.

For herbal remedies alone, there are not many factories meeting GMP-WHO standards on herbal medicine. This is a technical barrier for medicine produced from the significant herbal sources and millions of years of experience in traditional medicine.-VNA