BEIJING — While visiting relatives a year ago, Du Haipeng, 5, came down with a sore throat. Doctors prescribed a Chinese antibiotic, Xinfu. The boy’s reaction to the drug was so violent, he had to be taken to a nearby hospital.
“I remember clearly that I was shearing sheep when I got a call from my sister and her husband,” said Du Xinglong, 36, Haipeng’s father. “When I rushed to the hospital my son had already fallen into a coma.”
A week later, regulators banned Xinfu. Authorities eventually determined that the State Food and Drug Administration had granted the drug’s maker a seal of approval, even though Xinfu was not properly produced or sterilized.
The scandal was just one symptom of an ailing regulatory regime. Last year, the government uncovered 167,000 examples of illegal production and trade in medicine and medical equipment. In some cases, illegal factories are fined or closed; but their owners rarely face prosecution, and the problem persists.
Because of the public furor Xinfu set off, its producer, the Anhui Huayuan Worldbest Biology Company, was an exception. Several senior executives at the company were dismissed; its production license was revoked; and last November, according to state-run media, the company’s general manager committed suicide.
That was too late for a 6-year-old named Liu Sichen. She had been given Xinfu for a tonsil infection. Soon she fell into a coma, and after several days she died.
“She was about to go to elementary school,” said Sichen’s mother, Guo Ping. “Her father bought her a new pink backpack.”
In the end, at least 14 people died after taking Xinfu, and perhaps hundreds more were severely sickened. Du Haipeng woke from his coma after 22 days of emergency treatment. But he wasn’t himself. “He didn’t recognize us,” said his mother, Fu Liguang, 38. “Over the next two and a half months, he didn’t say a single word.”
Today, the boy rarely speaks. He wets his pants, and his doctors say he may have permanent brain damage.
His father has no sympathy for Zheng Xiaoyu, the State Food and Drug Administration’s former chief, executed on Tuesday.
“If he hadn’t approved that company our family wouldn’t be shattered,” Mr. Du said. “He should have been killed a long time ago.”