By Edward Wong
Huang Yuanxi contributed research.
The Chinese government announced that it has banned the sale of an herbal medicine after three people died and three others fell seriously ill.
The warning about the medicine, called ciwujia, was posted on the Web site of the State Food and Drug Administration late Wednesday. It said six people had been severely affected after being injected with the herbal formula made by Wandashan Pharmaceutical, based in northeastern China.
The announcement is certain to erode further consumer confidence in Chinese products, already shaken by revelations last month that dairy products illegally tainted with the industrial chemical melamine led to the deaths of at least three babies and caused 53,000 other children to fall ill. Many countries have begun banning suspect Chinese food products.
Toxic drugs have long been a problem in China, and official corruption is sometimes involved. Last year, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed after being found guilty of accepting more than $850,000 in bribes from eight drug companies. His execution was intended to be a sign that anyone involved in manufacturing or enabling the sale of tainted food or medicine would be severely punished.
But the problems persist. In the latest incident, the SFDA said it had discovered two batches of harmful ciwujia medicine and urged people across China to report any problems with the product.
The Web site of Wandashan advertises ciwujia as a traditional medicine that can be used for the treatment of cerebral thrombosis, cerebral arteriosclerosis, and cerebral embolism caused by kidney and liver problems, as well as alleviating coronary heart disease. It is sold in various forms, including capsules and herbal teas.
All six victims were being treated in a hospital in Yunnan Province, in southwestern China. According to reports on Thursday from three local news media organizations, they fell ill after being injected with ciwujia at No. 4 People’s Hospital in Honghe Prefecture. The illnesses of the three men and three women were first reported within the hospital last Sunday, and by Wednesday, three of the patients had died.
A woman answering the telephone at the Wandashan headquarters in the capital of Heilongjiang Province said the company had recalled all ciwujia products within 24 hours of receiving word from the government. She said she knew of no adverse reactions before this report. The woman declined to give her name and said she could not provide more details because of the investigation.
Pharmacies in China often sell traditional Chinese as well as Western medicines. Some products are well-known, but many are obscure and contain little-known ingredients.
The Chinese government is still grappling with the fallout from the milk scandal involving melamine, the biggest food safety crisis to hit the country in years. Government officials have said that milk suppliers added melamine to milk to fraudulently bolster the protein count on quality tests. Babies and children drinking the products can develop kidney stones and other ailments. On Wednesday alone, 539 children were admitted to hospitals.
On Thursday, the Finance Ministry announced on its Web site that it would give the equivalent of $44 million in subsidies to dairy farmers hit hard by the downturn in milk sales. Many farmers have had to dispose of vast quantities of suspect milk.
Most of the money will go to farmers in the main dairy-producing regions and provinces of Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Liaoning, Shanxi and Shandong.
Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.
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