- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

BEIJING — China said yesterday it was investigating the sale of fake blood protein, a potentially dangerous and widespread practice that underscores the country’s problems with product safety.

State media reported one death from use of the counterfeits, but authorities have not said whether anyone has fallen ill.

A shortage of albumin, a blood protein that chronically ill people often lack, triggered a nationwide investigation in March into whether fakes were being sold, China Central Television said.

The report centered on an inquiry in the northeastern province of Jilin, where 59 hospitals and pharmacies were sold more than 2,000 bottles of counterfeit blood protein. It did not say what the products were made of, but said they could “make a patient’s condition worsen and could cause death.”

CCTV’s Web site showed two vials of albumin, the real product looking cloudier and more viscous than the translucent fake.

Seven out of 36 batches of albumin tested by the Jilin Food and Drug Research Institute were found to be bogus, CCTV quoted the institute’s deputy director, Xu Fei, as saying.

“There was no element of protein, so it could not perform its intended function,” Mr. Xu was quoted as saying. “They were through-and-through fakes.”

Albumin is a primary protein in human plasma that is important in maintaining blood volume. It is used to treat conditions including shock, burns, liver failure and pancreatitis, and is needed by patients undergoing heart surgery.

“The harm could be very great,” Chen Hongguo, head of the pharmaceutical section of the Jingyu County People’s Hospital in Jilin, told CCTV. Mr. Chen said the hospital bought fake protein from the Jilin Yatai Wanlian Pharmaceutical Co.

China, which has an across-the-board problem with food and drug safety, has come under growing pressure from the United States and the European Union to improve inspections of exports.

Citing a Jilin food and drug safety official, CCTV said the product cost about $1.30 to make but was sold at $38 per vial.

It said a salesman from the company has been detained. A woman who answered the telephone at the company said no managers were around and that she was “unclear” about the situation.

Jilin government officials referred all questions to the provincial Food and Drug Administration, which said there was no spokesman available to answer questions. An official at the State Food and Drug Administration confirmed the CCTV report but refused to give his name or any details.

Henk Bekedam, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, said the development shows that checks need to be in place at every level.

“Counterfeit pharmaceuticals is a systemic challenge that needs a systems-based response,” Mr. Bekedam said. “A system of accreditation is needed at every point of the supply chain.”

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