[An analysis of the pharmaceuticals market in Vietnam]

D Simonet
Santé: Cahiers D'étude et de Recherches Francophones 2001, 11 (3): 155-60
This article sheds a light on the Vietnamese pharmaceutical market. The progress that has been made in the recent years following the opening of the Vietnamese regime to the western world, although not easy, brought a certain number of opportunities for domestic firms and foreign investors. The pharmaceutical Vietnamese industry started to emerge at the beginning of the 1990s. Although, the consumption of drugs is low, it does reach the sum of $ 5.5 per capita. As the majority of these products are imported, foreign companies tend to dominate the market both in volume and in diversity. The state has always played an important role with the implementation of a strict price control strategy and most national drug companies remain state-owned. The production and consumption of drugs were also largely influenced by state policies as the latter also control hospitals. In the second half of the eighties, the progressive liberalisation of the country allowed private drug pharmacies to appear and advertisement campaigns became legal. Because the lack of specific products like antibiotics was clear, the government increased the flow of imports, including private imports by citizens. Sources of imports have become more diverse, although France remains an important source of supply. Fournier, Lipha and Pierre Fabre are among the French drug manufacturers located in Vietnam. Other foreign companies include from India, South Korea, Thailand and Germany. Joint ventures were also created with French and Japanese companies. The import of medical materials is subjected to authorisations from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Trade as it is necessary to obtain a licence to do so. Licences are issued on the basis of the production of drugs that do not currently exist on the local market. But Vietnam also exports pharmaceutical products to Laos, Cambodia, and Cuba. Local resources constitute an important source of new products and have stirred a strong interest among pharmaceutical researchers. A strong decentralisation process characterises the pharmaceutical sector, with pharmacies in the provinces and districts while wholesalers remain located in Hanoi and Saigon. The presence of many middlemen has contributed to an increase in prices. Today, a concentration of pharmacies is still noted in inner cities while the suburbs and the villages still have difficulties supplying drugs for inhabitants. Solutions have been implemented such as the opening of new pharmacies and additional professional training for pharmacists. Prices were lowered while the quality of the supply chain was improved. Local production is encouraged as hospitals are prompted to prescribe Vietnamese products. The modernisation of the Vietnamese pharmaceutical industry is also visible through the importation of medical materials and an increase in the number of private hospitals financed with both the help of local and foreign investors, mainly through joint-ventures, most often in Saigon and Hanoi. The renovation of local hospitals was also possible with the help of France and Japan. Columbia Gia Dinh International, located in Saigon, is one of the very few US/Vietnamese medical institutions created with a local partner, the Gia Dinh hospital. The recovery of the economy will accelerate the creation of new projects designed to improve local medical infrastructures. Other private companies, some of which are based in Singapore, have been specifically designed to deliver care to expatriates working in Vietnam. Insurance coverage has been provided in Vietnam since in 1992. Other improvements concern the implementation of "Good Manufacturing Practices" (GMP) and "Good Laboratory Practices" and "Good Storage Practices". Most norms were implemented at the end of the 90s in joint companies linking foreign investors and local partners or in independent foreign drug manufacturers based in Vietnam. Special areas were created to receive high tech investments in the medical and pharmaceutical field. Prices should diminish as competition on the market increases and new products are placed on the market to achieve economies of scale. But investment in medical research is still strongly needed.

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