Can we trust the KFDA?The Korean Food and Drug Administration recently released a list of 1,122 medical products alleged to have used talc containing asbestos, provoking a consumer backlash. Countless numbers of patients, drug manufacturers, hospitals and pharmacies have been thrown into utter confusion by the subsequent product recall and ban on sales. The matter was one requiring a swift response but was instead handled with chronic belated action.
The KFDA’s efforts to correct the situation have met with staunch opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and hospitals, which insist that the government is trying to pass the blame on to them. Added to that is the sense of anxiety and disorder being felt by patients in need of alternative products.
Some of the banned medicines, such as those for blood pressure, blood sugar and heart disorders and gum disease require long periods to take effect and may already have been ingested by patients. The watchdog says that drugs such as these contain minimal amounts of asbestos and therefore are not considered a health risk. But this has only increased consumer anxiety.
Compounding this, the KFDA list differs from one produced by the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service because of our unreliable approval process for medicines.
Asbestos is a substance that exists in nature and is only dangerous if a large quantity of it is inhaled over a long period. But the “asbestos = cancer-causing substance = cancer” perception and the KFDA’s inaction has created a growing sense of disquiet around the country.
The KFDA was alerted to the possible dangers of asbestos by researchers several years ago, but chose to sit on its hands. It saw authorities in the United States and Europe take action to lower the risk there. Now, the KFDA is acting as though it doesn’t know what to do.
What the KFDA should have done was outline safety standards for products containing asbestos while informing the public of their potential dangers.
Medicines are not the only products thought to contain asbestos. In addition to the asbestos already found in baby powder talc, other household products may also be contaminated. The problem is that many of these products, with the exception of medicines, cosmetics and food, fall outside of the KFDA’s jurisdiction.
The government should devise measures to resolve the issue. A system that tracks the various stages of production of Chinese products should be established, and there should be some way to ensure that the system is working. We also need to make an effort to train people for situations such as these, so that they do not recur in the future.