The Drug Administration of Vietnam has asked all health departments and pharmaceutical firms nationwide to apply prompt measures to stabilise drug prices.

An official document issued early this week by administration director Truong Quoc Cuong aims to hold the line on drug prices, enhance market supervision, and ensure sufficient supplies of essential medicines.

"Provincial health departments should guide firms to prepare sufficient supplies of medicine for disease prevention and treatment by the public and local health facilities, in need to avoid shortages," wrote Cuong.

The document's release followed reports in some newspapers as well as consumer complaints about stiff hikes in the prices of some imported medicines.

National Assembly Social Affairs Committee vice chairman Nguyen Van Tien said at a recent meeting in Hanoi that drugs were being sold at prices up to 20 times higher their production costs.

But a survey of nearly 5,300 pharmaceutical products conducted by the Vietnam Pharmaceutical Manufacture and Trade Association showed only a modest increase in drug prices in the first six months of this year, with domestic pharmaceuticals rising by an average of five percent and imported drugs an average of 6.1 percent.

Cuong's statement urged local health officials to increase efforts to inspect and manage drug prices and ordered companies and relevant agencies to try to cut manufacturing and transaction costs in order to minimise price increases.

"Any violations found, e.g., speculation or excessive price hikes, will be dealt with strictly," he said.

The document also requested pharmaceutical firms to take measures to ensure uninterrupted drug supplies, especially pharmaceuticals used in medical examination and treatment facilities.

Hau Giang Pharmaceutical Joint Stock Co general director Pham Thi Viet Nga said that drug manufacturing and distribution companies have been pressured in the past to hold down the prices of essential products, but these were dependent on factors such as foreign exchange fluctuations and the costs of fuel or raw materials.

"We expect drug prices to rise generally as a result of increases in the costs of many pharmaceutical materials," said Nga. She predicted that prices would increase unless Government measures were particularly well-implemented in the final months of the year.

Hau Giang Pharmaceutical offers about 300 pharmaceutical products, accounting for about 10 percent of the domestic market./.