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Pharmacy degrees rental a flourishing market

Update: January, 11/2017 - 09:00
A pharmacist sells medicines to customers in HCM City. A law requiring drugstores to be registered under the names of legitimate pharmacists has led to a booming degree rental market. - VNA/VNS Photo Phương Vy
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI -- A drugstore opening using a rented pharmacist’s degree has become common in HCM City, and the authorities remain clueless about how to tackle the problem.

In a contract obtained by Tuổi trẻ (Youth) newspaper between a 60-year-old man called K and a 47-year-old pharmacist named T, an agreement was made to rent T’s pharmacist degree issued by the HCM City University of Medicine and Pharmacy to open a drugstore on Tân Hòa Đông Street in District 6 on March 1, 2011. K had to pay T VNĐ5 million (US$220) a month over the first year of the contract, and the amount would increase by VNĐ500,000 on a yearly basis until March 1, 2016.

That meant T would earn a total of VNĐ360 million over a five-year period just by renting out her pharmacist degree.

The law requiring drugstores to be registered under the name of legitimate pharmacists has indirectly led to a booming degree rental market.

A number of pharmacists aware of the issue told Tuổi trẻ that the average rental price now ranges from VNĐ5 million to VNĐ10 million a month based on the location of the prospective drugstore and the popularity of the pharmacists involved. A well-known pharmacist, and even better if they are working at a health management agency, could command a much better price. Penalties for such violations remain lenient and do little to deter the practice.

The problem has become so rampant that it is very easy to find posts on the internet asking to rent pharmacist degrees, in which personal information like names, phone numbers and email addresses are all on public display.

HCM City Department of Health Chief Inspector Bùi Minh Trạng blamed the situation on a loophole in the Law on Medicine, which allows pharmacists to use their names to open drugstores anywhere.

"This makes no sense, as a pharmacist based in Hà Nội can legally open a drugstore in HCM City," he said.

The law does not force a pharmacist to be present at his drugstore at all times, and he could ask another pharmacist to take care of the drugstore. Many took advantage of the loophole, leading to the booming black market.

Regarding the public posts on the internet, Trang said that the inspectors were aware of the situation, yet could not do anything about it.

"We can only handle the violation when the drugstore’s operation licence has already been granted and the inspectors manage to prove that a rented degree has been used in the case," he said.

HCM City Department of Health Deputy Director Phạm Khánh Phong Lan acknowledged the problem of rented degrees in HCM City, which had become "very serious when a number of pharmacists could not resist the temptation of earning a living from renting their degrees."
Lan said that a lack of regulations on opening drugstores was the cause of the problem.

"Pharmacies are all around hospitals in HCM City while there are only a few in remote areas like Cần Giờ District," she said. "HCM City has more than 5,000 pharmacies for 10 million citizens, or more than one pharmacy per 2,000 citizens. It is too many."

The health department was stepping up efforts to inspect drugstores, which would then face higher fines if the pharmacist in charge was found to be absent on two occasions. Yet even these measures were far from enough, she admitted.  -- VNS


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