COMMENT: Advent of Cheap Medicine

The enactment of the two bills into Cheaper Medicine Act of 2007, hopefully when Congress resumes session in June, will do away with wide the gap between “brand-named” medicines of the multinational drug corporations and their “generic” counterparts.

Until then, the Filipinos will continue groaning under the high-priced medicines, the second highest in Asia – the price we have been paying for globalization. While Congress has to be praised for its bold act, the question is:  Why has it taken so long?

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By the Way:  In the 2007 Physician Licensure Examination, three from Mindanao medical schools placed in the top ten: Alma Christine Bathan Gerona from Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, 5th; Maximilian Garcia Larena from Davao Medical School Foundation, 6th; and Johan  Mendez Ancheta from Mindanao State University-Marawi, 10th. 

This is a testimony to the growing excellence of medical schools in Mindanao and a tribute to them for producing three out of the 12 top-10 placers.

Incidentally, the first placer came from the province – De La Salle University – Dasmariñas, Cavite.  Of the six top-10 placers from Metro Manila universities, that from the University of Santo Tomas placed second and that from the University of the Philippines placed 9th.  Two other top-10 placers are from the Visayas.

If this continues as a trend, students from the Visayas and Mindanao can be comfortable with the medical education offered in top medical schools in their regions.

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Big Gaps

 

How big are the gaps between the prices of “brand-named” medicines and their “generic” versions? The following examples I was able to obtain show the scandalous differences. Following the prices of the brand names, in parentheses, are those of their generic versions.

Ventolin, tablet, 2mg – P7/tablet (P0.40); syrup, 60 ml bottle – P108.15 (P14.70);  Alvedon 500mg – P3/tablet (P0.40); Zocor 20mg – P42/tablet (P21); Decolgen (drops) 15 ml bottle – P75.50 (P26); Capoten 25mg – P31/tablet (P3); Inderal 10mg – P9.35/tablet (P0.80); Adalat 10mg – P26.55/tsblet (P3).

These are medicines for common ailments like asthma, colds, etc.  Take Ventolin for asthma. The price of one tablet of the brand name can buy 17 tablets of the generic; the price of one bottle of the brand name can buy seven bottles of the generic. Try computing the differences of the others and feel the shock of your life.

How generic medicines will be made available in all drug stores under the Cheaper Medicine Act of 2007 is not clear in the news reports. However, it is presumed that the Act amply covers generic medicine.

Importation

 

HB 6035 “seeks to amend the Intellectual Property code to allow the ‘parallel importation’ of cheaper medicines from other countries” – including “medicines sold at much cheaper prices” in those countries than in the Philippines by the same makers here.

For instance, Norvasc, the medicine taken by 17.5 million Filipinos suffering from hypertension (according to Mary Ann Ll. Reyes, in her column “Hidden Agenda” in the Philippine Star), a product of Pfizer, costs in India 60 percent cheaper than in the Philippines.

Here in General Santos City, Norvasc costs P112.75 per tablet.  At 60 percent cheaper, that would be P45.40 at the price of its India version.  Since this is a maintenance medicine, its importation from India would a tremendous saving for the users and it will be made affordable to millions of poor Filipino sick of hypertension.

From this example alone, we can see the great relief of the sick and sickly Filipinos once the country begins to import cheap medicines from India and other countries even if the average cost reduction would only be 50 percent.  However, as seen in the comparative prices of the brand-named and generic medicines, the difference could be much more.

Resistance

 

Last Tuesday February 20, four lobbyists of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) — coming from Pfizer Phils. and Glaxo-Smith Kline — tried desperately to have the session adjourned in order to stop the passage of HB 6035 on second reading.

While the lobbyists were ejected from the gallery and President Arroyo warned PHAP not to lobby, the resistance against HB 6035 and SB 2263 has not been stopped.  There’s still a third reading for HB 6035 and the bicameral conference committee meeting before the final passage of the Cheaper Medicine Act of 2007.

PHAP resistance to cheap medicine in the Philippines has a long history.  It resisted the bill of Sen. Juan Flavier about 10 years ago for the development of herbal medicine. 

The lobby against cheap medicine – especially the generic medicine – has been done in Congress and among the medical practitioners making the Philippine Medical Association a partner of PHAP.  Doctors are given attractive incentives to prescribe products of the multinational drug manufacturers.

Question

 

HB 6035 is expected to be passed on third reading when Congress resumes session in June. Then the bicameral conference committee will reconcile HB 6035 and SB 2263.

Unless the Senate and the House soften their resistance against the lobby after the May election, cheap medicines for the Filipinos is a certainty. However, anything can happen.  That HB 6035 will pass is out of the question. But the Act can be watered down at the bicameral conference committee.

Cheap medicine is eagerly awaited.  Will it come? Advent is here.  Will it bring the redeemer?

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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