A man who has suffered from chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) for over a decade has been prosecuted for buying cheap medicine from abroad.
After purchasing generic versions of the cancer drug Glivec, used in CML treatment, and helping others to do so, Lu Yong was arrested on suspicion of credit card fraud and selling counterfeit medication.
More than 300 CML patients have since signed a petition pleading for the charges to be dropped.
"The law states that medicine without the China Drug Safety Authority stamp is considered counterfeit," said Luo Jian, deputy chief of the Public Prosecution Department at Yuanjiang People's Procuratorate in Hunan Province.
"Glivec is very expensive and CML patients would die if they cannot afford it. The generic version has given us courage and a new lease on life," a petitioner stated.
The drug costs about 23,500 yuan ($3,755) per treatment, while the generic equivalent is currently available in India for just 4,000 yuan ($642).
According to Ruan Qilin, a professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, producing and selling counterfeit drugs constitute a crime, regardless of motive.
"However, this ruling is a setback for poorer patients," he said, adding that sentences for selling unlicensed medicines should be reduced for good quality generic versions that do not cause social harm.
The high cost of Chinese medicine should be a priority for government to address, said Zhuang Yiqiang, deputy secretary general of the Chinese Hospital Association. Issues regarding expensive medicines, the approval of generic drugs, and including uremia and leukemia in the national healthcare insurance system must be addressed, he added.