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Vietnam’s Ministry of Health reported that the pharmaceutical sector’s average growth from 2009 – 2013 was 18.8%/year. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s classification and ranking of pharmaceuticals, Vietnam is ranked 3 out of 4, signifying that the country has a domestic pharmaceutical industry; is able to produce some generic drugs whose copyright protection has expired; and exports some pharmaceuticals.

The nation’s medicine system is rooted in traditional Asian healing practices and herbal remedies. In the 19th century, Vietnamese people started to adopt Western medicines. But it was not until the 1990s, following Central resolution IV and Decision 58 of the Prime Minister on the pharmaceutical industry, and from 2005 until now, that domestic pharmaceutical companies gained the strength to promote standards to GMP- ASEAN, GMP-WHO, PIC/S or EU-GMP, etc. and to adapt to increasingly stringent quality standards and globalisation.

At present, there are 180 drug manufacturers all over the country (including 100 brands specialised in modern drugs and 80 brands specialised in traditional Asian medicines). However, domestic enterprises can meet only 50% of domestic demand. The domestic drug industry relies heavily on imported materials, accounting for 90%, mainly from India, China, france and Korea.

Even in hard economic times, the drug industry looks forward to strong revenues. The Business Monitor International (BMI) forecasts drug consumption in Vietnam to rocket to US$117.802 billion in 2017, with an average growth of 15.5% per year. However, key issues for Vietnam’s drug industry are how to research and produce new drug lines; avoiding reliance on foreign drug stores; and monitoring the supply of materials. Based on an extremely diverse traditional Asian medicinal background, domestic pharmaceutical brands can release herb-based drugs, which are environmentally friendly, healthy and not very expensive.

In 2013, Vietnam was exporting pharmaceuticals to 20 countries, including Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and over 20 African countries. According to a forecast by BMI, export revenues will rapidly increase and hit US$250 million in 2017. The forecast was based on market potentials in Africa with 70% of drugs in demand being imported. Vietnam’s exported products there include cures for malaria and diarrhoea and various types of vaccines. These are all made in Vietnam, with high efficacy and prices to suit the limited budgets of the locals.

To compete internationally, Vietnam must promote its established strengths, switch to traditional Asian remedies and research naturally- based pharmaceuticals. Mr. Phung Minh Dung, General Director of the Central Medicinal Joint Stock Company (Mediplantex) said: “Vietnamese enterprises should take advantage of Asian medicinal products because we boast a long-standing medicinal tradition. Meanwhile, the State should also introduce policies to support and invest in enterprises to enhance their competitiveness on the market.” The Vietnamese Government and the Ministry of Health have proactively implemented supportive policies such as boosting enterprises to meet GMP standards and reducing import duty on materials to 0%. In 2014, the program “Pathway for Vietnamese Pharmaceuticals” initiated by the Ministry of Health and Drug Administration of Vietnam garnered encouraging results.