With Japan deciding to remove South Korea from the list of trusted trading partners, also known as the whitelist, local pharmacist groups are enhancing their Japanese drug boycott movement.
Regional pharmacist groups in Seoul, Daegu, North Gyeongsang Province, Gyeonggi Province, and North Jeolla Province have released statements expressing an intention to boycott Japanese pharmaceutical products.
Last Friday, a group called "Pharmacists Preparing for the Future" has created a website that lists 219 Japanese drugs –148 ethical drugs, 55 over-the-counter drugs, and 15 health-related products – and their substitutes.
"Boycott Japan movement is taking place nationwide against Japan’s unreasonable economic retaliation," the group said. "We created the 'Nono Japan Drug' website because we believe it necessary for the public to know what Japanese products are being sold in the Korean market."
The group stressed that in the case of medicines, it is difficult for both the general public and experts to know whether the drugs are Japanese products.
"Notably, pharmaceutical companies often name their drugs in English," the group said. "Therefore, it is often unclear whether they are Japanese drugs or not, and in such cases, our site will serve as a reference."
The group urged patients to ask their doctors and pharmacists if their prescription contains any Japanese drugs.
"Pharmacists, doctors, and dentists will fully reflect the opinions of the public," the group said.
Other pharmacist groups have also urged the Korean Medical Association (KMA) to recognize the seriousness of the situation and join the anti-Japanese drug campaign.
However, the consensus of the doctors' organization is that although they agree that Japan's economic retaliation is unjust, it is hard for them to participate in boycotts unconditionally.
"We also feel as Koreans that Japan's economic retaliatory measures are unjustifiable," a KMA spokesperson said. "However, the KMA believes that doctors should place utmost priority on patients' health rights."
Naturally, doctors prescribe appropriate medicine according to the condition of the patient, so the public health should be excluded from the political judgment, he noted. However, the spokesperson added that it would not keep doctors from participating in the boycott of their own will.
Doctors themselves are also showing a split response toward the anti-Japanese drug campaign.
Dr. Jung Young-kyu of the Gwonseon Samsung Internal Medicine clinic said that he would participate in the anti-Japanese drug campaign.
"As a citizen of Korea, I thought about what I could do to help," Jung was quoted as saying by Money Today News, a local outlet. "As there are many good drugs developed by Korean companies, I think that it is better to use Korean medicine rather than Japanese drugs if they can provide the same efficacy."
Jung said that the clinic intends to reduce the Japanese medicine prescription through sufficient consultation with patients who wish to switch to local medicine.
However, some doctors expressed negative opinions toward the anti-Japanese drug campaign.
"In the case of ethical drugs, patients cannot simply change to other medicines only because they are Japanese medicines," a doctor told Korea Biomedical Review, asking to remain anonymous. "It is not right to prescribe medicines related to patients' lives according to political circumstances, and doctors or the KMA should not encourage such behavior."
Another doctor said, "As most Japanese pharmaceutical companies sign supply or marketing agreements with local pharmaceutical companies, the boycott may end up hurting Korean pharmaceutical companies instead."
Despite the boycott movement, drugs manufactured by Japanese companies have registered strong sales in the first half of this year.
Eisai's Aricept, a treatment for dementia, recorded 41.7 billion won ($34.3 million) in sales, while Astellas' Harnal-D, a benign prostatic hyperplasia treatment, recorded sales of 35.3 billion won.
Other drugs such as Astellas' Betmiga, and Daiichi Sankyo's Lixiana and Sevikar also surpassed 20 billion won in sales.
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