Thursday, July 16, 2009

Consumers' Action for Empowerment: Make prices of medicine affordable now!

Consumers' Action for Empowerment: Make prices of medicine affordable now!

The government should compel multinational pharmaceutical corporations to make their prices affordable for Filipinos instead of giving them the option of voluntary compliance, says consumer group, Consumers' Action for Empowerment.

Launched in February 20, 2009, the group is composed of over a hundred members from different Metro Manila-based religious institutions, health professional organizations, community-based health programs, and people's organizations.

Eleanor Nolasco, RN, one of Consumers' Action for Empowerment conveners said that Mrs. Arroyo's obvious hesitance in giving relief to millions of poor and ailing Filipinos only goes to show her utter subservience to the interests of transnational corporations.

Last July 8, 2009, pharma industry giants Pfizer, Wyeth, Roche, and Sanofi sought an audience with Mrs. Arroyo in Malacanang. Others present were representatives from Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Department of Health (DOH). The meeting tackled concerns of the industry's big players on the imposition of a Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP). Their basic position is to allow market forces and competition to decide drug prices, instead of the government setting a ceiling.

“For decades, many poor people have suffered and died because they cannot buy exorbitantly-priced medicine. The billions of profit that they have amassed after decades of control on medicine prices should be enough for them to consider the poor's sake this time,” said Nolasco.

She also assailed Mrs. Arroyo's indecisiveness in standing behind the people's right to low-cost and effective medicine by exercising her executive prerogative to impose MDRP on essential medicines. “Why should she provide a 10-day window period for these profit-driven companies to decide on voluntary compliance? If the president of the Republic of the Philippines is genuinely sincere in lowering medicine retail prices, she should demand and not appeal to these companies to substantially slash their prices to even lower than 50%.”

Furthermore, the convener said, for every single day that Mrs. Arroyo hesitates to put her foot down on making essential medicine accessible, the thousands of Filipinos, barely on survival income, are further deprived of money they could have used to buy food and other necessities.

Meanwhile, Nolasco bashed Pfizer's discount card offer to DOH amounting to P100 million saying the attempt is tantamount to bribery. She challenged Pfizer's recent open letter addressed to the Filipino people, “if Pfizer indeed has 'absolute commitment to the people of the Philippines to do what's right legally and ethically', why don't they just slash their prices and let all patients benefit from their medicines at a lower cost instead of just limiting the discounts to 1.8 million Sulit Card holders.”

Nolasco stressed that the public should not be misled into believing that the pending executive order on Maximum Drug Retail Price will be the end to decades of stranglehold by multinational companies of the local drug industry. “While the MDRP is a welcome step towards regulating medicine prices, a short-term Drug Price Regulatory Board represented by different stakeholders should be in place.”

She added that a crucial element in making essential medicines accessible to the people is the development of a self-reliant national drug industry that is responsive to the health needs of the Filipinos. “The government should provide incentives to the industry's small local players such as tax holidays and exemptions as well as lower fees on different BFAD requirements,” she said.

“One year has passed but RA 9502 failed to keep its promise of making essential medicines accessible to the people. The law failed primarily because it does not have any provision which removes the control and influence of foreign pharmaceutical companies on all aspects of the industry. These giant companies are not expected to just give up their control over the market from where they rake in huge profits. Hence, the Filipino people should remain ever vigilant and expose possible illicit relationships and sweetheart deals struck between these pharmaceutical companies and willing locals.”

“The need of Filipinos for efficacious and affordable essential medicines can only be met when a strong national healthcare system is in place and under a government whose policies are in the best interest of its people,” she concluded.



#35 Examiner Street, West Triangle, Quezon City, Philippines 1104
Telefax: 929-8109

Eleanor Nolasco, RN
Convener, Consumers' Action for Empowerment
0905 325 5223

Sunday, July 5, 2009

CHD to DOH: reach out to the grassroots

On July 1, 2009, the Department of Health (DOH) posted in its website that it is “further bolstering its mitigation efforts against Influenza A(H1N1) in light of the anticipated rise of cases in the country.” Moreover,the posting said that “This is in accordance with the directives of President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo last week to prepare well-equipped isolation wards in all state-run hospitals throughout the country.”

Sadly, this pronouncement on the so-called bolstering of efforts against the disease was done 1,709 cases later.

Influenza A(H1N1) has already caused panic and hysteria among the general public. In fact, via constant media exposure and cases countdowns, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III fueled more the public panic.

It can be remembered that during the first weeks of the disease in the country, the DOH poured a considerable amount of taxpayers' money on paid advertisements instead of using its resources on exhausting all means to educate people in the communities and taking first steps in preventing the outbreak. At that point, A(H1N1) was infective but not severe.

How the DOH and the government as a whole act now is not very surprising though. It has always been reactive in dealing with disease outbreaks while existing communicable but preventable diseases continue to cause fatality all over the country.

For instance, the number of dengue fever cases reaches thousands and its death toll reach hundreds yearly including those among very young children. From January to May this year, DOH reported 6, 537 cases of dengue.

In the National Capital Region, there have been 463 cases recorded in Manila and Quezon City alone. In the cities of Cebu and Santiago, there were 296 and 200 cases respectively. Meanwhile, 62 persons have already died of dengue in the country this year.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Global TB Report 2008, the Philippines ranks ninth on the list of 22 high-burden tuberculosis (TB) countries in the world. TB is the sixth greatest cause of morbidity and mortality in the country, the report stipulated. The country’s current ranking translates to some 250,000 Filipinos being infected with TB annually and 75 patients dying everyday from the disease.

As an agency existing to care for the health of the people, it should go beyond press conferences and media advertisements that are rather superficial. It should directly go to the communities and launch conduct massive health education drives in which people would know and understand A(H1N1) comprehensively alongside other health issues existing.

However, this is not a question that DOH must answer alone but a responsibility of the entire government.

But most importantly, the socio-economic needs of the people must first be met to ensure that families and individuals have the capacity to provide for their basic needs. Specifically, workers need jobs that will provide a liveable income and peasants need land which they can cultivate and get enough produce to meet their basic needs.

How can one prevent A(H1N1) disease through proper nutrition at these situations? While the best way to prevent acquiring the flu is by building up body resistance, how can poor Filipino families, who hardly have anything to eat, go by that DOH prescription?

It has been long overdue for the Arroyo administration to rethink the policies and programs it has implemented. The government should focus its attention in creating policies and programs that will prevent, manage and control diseases instead of merely implementing knee-jerk responses and stop-gap measures. Instead of reinventing the wheel in responding to outbreaks, why not come up with a sustainable and comprehensive plan that will truly address people's vulnerability to diseases?

The state should come up with a program that will genuinely address people's health. It is only through a sound health care system that the people can be armed with resistance and proper nutrition against whatever disease outbreaks that may come along.###

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Consumers' Action for Empowerment stage protest “people's verdict: cheaper med law is a failure”

Different organizations under Consumers' Action for Empowerment (Consumers' Action) staged “Hatol ng Bayan: Bigo ang Cheaper Medicine Law” (People's Verdict: Cheaper Medicine Law is a Failure), a street protest in Mendiola, Manila last June 5, 2008.

It was the eve of the first year of enactment of “The Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008,” or Republic Act 9502 more popularly known as the cheaper medicine law, one of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's centerpiece programs, which promised to bring prices of medicine down.

The protest aimed to deliver to Malacanang palace the people's verdict on the law. For Consumers' Action, RA 9502, enacted on June 6, 2008 failed because it does not have provisions that address the very reasons why the prices of medicine in the country are high.

Continuing monopoly

According to Dr. Julie Caguiat, one of the conveners of Consumers' Action, the law does not remove monopoly control of transnational corporations (TNCs) in the drug industry and neither does it contain provision for the development of a local drug industry.

Estimates put the share of TNCs in the Philippines from 68 to 72 percent in sales of medicines and pharmaceuticals alone. Last year, pharmaceutical sales in the country amounted to P116 billion.

Caguiat added that although between 80 and 90 percent of essential drugs being sold in the Philippines are no longer patented, the law did not provide for the development of a sound local drug industry that could have taken advantage of the fact that previously patented medicines can now be developed by local manufacturers.

Consumers' Action also criticized the policy of dependence being fostered by RA 9502, which gave particular focus on drug importation, including parallel importation. A parallel import is a non-counterfeit product imported from another country without securing the permission of the intellectual property owner. Parallel importation can eventually kill what remains of the local drug industry in the Philippines.

Moreover, Caguiat said that RA 9502 did not create a price regulatory board that could usher the democratic representation of consumers and other sectors in the market.

Eleanor Nolasco of the Health Action Information Network (HAIN) briefly presented the result of their study on the implementation of the law. Sadly, the study found no significant decrease on the prices of essential medicine in the country after one year.

Subservience to WTO

Dr. Gene Nisperos of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) on the other hand, denounced the role of World Trade Organization (WTO) and its policies on health in the current health system of the country.

Under the WTO-Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (WTO-TRIPS), patent holders have the right to exclusively manufacture, use and dictate the selling price of a patented medicine. In the Philippine drug market, more than 70% of the manufacturers are TNCs.

Nisperos also pointed out Macapagal-Arroyo's regime as responsible for the worsening of the Philippine health situation, with her lack of genuine concern to the basic needs of the majority of the Filipinos.

On top of the government's subservience to WTO-influenced policies, it also failed to develop a self-reliant national drug industry that is responsive to the health needs of the people. There is also no government support for local drug manufacturers in terms of tax holidays and research and development subsidies.


Juanito Torres, a patient at the Tala Leprosarium in Manila and current president of Tala Hansenites Council, shared that leprosy patients including him, have experienced being given low-quality medicine for their ailments. Specifically, Torres pointed out that there was a time they were given antibiotics that was made of gaw-gaw, a local starch.

However, Torres said they did not have a choice because they could not afford to buy their own medicine because of its sky-rocketing prices. He added that they are disappointed with the cheaper medicine law because “isang taon na mula noong isabatas ang cheaper medicine law pero sobrang taas pa rin ang presyo ng mga gamot,” (a year have passed and prices of medicine remain very high). Torres spoke for thousands of patients who waited in vain for a substantive decrease in prices of life saving pills.

Creative protest

Amid rain showers, a dramatic presentation in a form of a street play in different frames was performed by the members of Kilos Bayan para sa Kalusugan (KBK / People's Action for Health).

The protest action was successfully and peacefully held.

Aside from HEAD, KBK, TALA Hansenites and HAIN, the Alliance for Health Workers (AHW), Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED), Health Alliance for Human Rights (HAHR), Health Students' Action (HSA), Bayan Muna Partylist and Council for Health and Development (CHD) joined the protest action.

Launched on February 20, 2009 the Consumers' Action also aims to monitor the prices, efficacy and quality of essential medicines in the market, launch educational discussions on the issue of high cost of medicines and push for the implementation of the Generics Law and National Drugs Policy.

For the group, access to essential medicines is part of a people’s inherent right to health. The need of Filipinos for efficacious and affordable medicines can only be met when a strong national health care system is in place and under a government whose policies are for the best interest of its people.#