China will remove foreign drugs, including generic medicines from India and other countries, from its “fake medicine” list and will allow patients to use them in small quantities from December 1, Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday. This came after the country’s top legislature National People’s Congress passed a revised drug law on Monday that earlier categorised unapproved foreign generic drugs as counterfeit.

The decision will come as a relief for Chinese patients suffering from diseases such as cancer. Residents will now be able to access cheaper and more effective generic drugs from India. However, the announcement did not mention how the medicines could be procured as they are not available at pharmacies.

The revised law meant that residents who use the drugs without official approval “can be granted leniency if the amount of the drug is small” and will not be punished if the drug does not cause health problems or delay in treatment, Chinese tabloid Global Times reported. Experts see this new development as China opening its market to cheaper variety of generic medicines, especially from India.

Health law expert and research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Liu Changqiu, however, said that this did not mean that the country was ready “to relax management on imported generic medicine”. Those who want to import these medicines for profit still have to abide by laws to register and get prior approval.

The report also stated that most generic medicines for which registrations were done between 2016 and 2018 were from India and Switzerland.

“Under the new definition, a cheaper generic drug made in India can be imported and sold in China,” The New York Times quoted Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health on the Council on Foreign Relations, as saying. “Given that these drugs are usually much cheaper than the prohibitively priced Western patented drugs, a significantly larger percentage of Chinese people can now afford those lifesaving drugs.”

Lack of access to drugs emerged as a burgeoning problem for the Chinese government as heart disease, strokes and chronic lung disease accounted for 80% of the deaths, according to a 2011 World Bank report. While cancer diagnoses were on the rise, survival rates declined.

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