Black comedy on low-cost, life-saving Indian drugs is a surprise hit in China

Dying to Survive has been released in the backdrop of increasing calls for cooperation between India and China in the pharmaceutical sector.

Written by ZEESHAN SHAIKH | Beijing | Updated: July 8, 2018 10:11:32 am

Chinese film Dying To Survive Chinese film Dying To Survive

A Chinese black comedy, a movie lauding the benefits of generic anti-cancer drugs manufactured in India, has gone on to become a huge hit in China, raking in USD 36.14 mn in two days since its release on Thursday.

Dying to Survive has been released in the backdrop of increasing calls for cooperation between India and China in the pharmaceutical sector. Generic drugs manufactured in India are popular in China for their low cost and efficacy. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China in June, it had been agreed upon that China would encourage Indian pharma companies to register for high-quality pharma products in the Chinese market.

The movie, directed by Ning Hao, tackles the issue of rising healthcare costs in China. Nearly 40 per cent of healthcare spendings are on drugs alone.

The film, released on Thursday and making waves in China’s festival circuit, is based on the story of Lu Yong, a textile trader from Wuxi, Jiangsu province. Diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2002, Lu had been taking Gleevec, developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis for use in the treatment of multiple cancers. The medicine had been costing him around 23,500 yuan (around Rs 2.5 lakh) a month.

In 2004, Lu began to directly procure a version of the same medicine, called Veenat, from India which cost him only 3,000 yuan. He shared this information with 1,000 other patients in support groups and also provided help in sourcing these medicines from India.

But since the drug was unregistered in China, it was deemed counterfeit and Lu was arrested in 2014. After spending four months in prison, Lu was released after Chinese courts found that he had not personally profited from this activity. Many cancer patients had also petitioned for his release.

Lu’s character in the movie has been fictionalised into Cheng Yong, a peddler of ointments. The movie pairs him with a bunch of other eccentric fellow smugglers who help him in his pursuit of Indian drugs to help those afflicted by cancer.

Actor Xu Zheng, who has also co-produced the movie, plays Cheng’s character. Parts of Dying to Survive have been shot in Mumbai.

Indian drugs are extremely popular in China with frequent cases being registered of smuggling and selling Indian-made drugs. There is also a massive underground market for Indian medicines in the treatment of diseases such as cancer. About 4.3 million people are diagnosed with cancer annually in China, according to a report on China Central Television.

The percentage of Indian drugs that are sold legally in the Chinese market is very low. Chinese experts have over the months been calling for increased cooperation between India and China in the field of pharmaceuticals with some calling for joint development of drugs.

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