Group launches drive for cheaper medicines

Posted on May 24, 2006. Filed under: News |

By Cher Jimenez
Published on May 23, 2006 issue of the BusinessMirror


Health workers and consumer groups protest the sky-high prices of medicines and rally in front of the Senate in support of Senate Bill 2139 that seeks to lower prices of medicines.In a related development, the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo group was launched at the Philippine General Hospital during which drug companies were flayed for their high prices. ROY DOMINGO

Half of lawmakers receive perks from around 20 to 26 multinational companies (MNCs) to enable these companies to control prices of medicines with impunity.

This was the accusation of Raul Segovia of the Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection (CACP) adding some members of Congress are even “involved in the pricing of goods” to control the costs of medicines in the market.

Segovia is part of a group called Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (Agap) organized by the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA) and composed of organizations and individuals calling for lower priced medicines and broadening Filipinos’ access to health care.

Reports from the recent World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva said governments and people around the world are complaining of the rising cost of medicines with health groups as well as many governments identifying the granting of patents on pharmaceutical drugs as a major cause.

Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan of the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) said while the patents of about 85 percent of drugs in the country have already expired, their costs are still high because of an alleged “cartel”.

Some drug firms, according to him, resort to “greening patent” or a modification of an existing drug whose patent is about to expire to extend its rights. “Drug companies claim drugs are so expensive because they need to cover their very high research and development (R & D) costs. In 2001, they placed this at $802 million for each new drug they bring to the market.”

“They are tricking the quality of drugs so that they can have effectively a patent extension,” added Pagdanganan at yesterday’s launch of Agap at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) auditorium. He said this practice makes the Philippines the country with the highest costs of drugs in Asia next only to Japan.

The PITC estimates that drugs sold in the Philippines are higher by 40 to 200 percent compared to other neighbor countries. This even if the country was the first to enact a Generics Law in the region. Pagdanganan said compliance with this policy “is very low.”

Half of the country’s 85 million population do not have access to essential drugs although the country’s drug spending averaged $1.1 billion from 1997-2001, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Pagdanganan added that three out of five Filipinos get sick without being able to see a doctor. In 2005, Filipinos spending for medicines dropped by 2.2 percent while prices of medicines went up by 10 percent.

Per capita spending on health in the Philippines is only P1,662 as of 2003, according to Sen. Mar Roxas, also a member of the coalition. Roxas has filed a bill in the Senate seeking to lower medicine prices.

Former senator Wigberto Tanada, also a member of the coalition, said 70 percent of about P100 billion that drug companies earn every year goes to MNCs and that the coalition is well aware of the “power and influence” that MNCs exercise among “those who are in and out of government,” making their campaign a really challenging one.

Other members of the network include the Third World Network, Citizen’s Alliance for Consumer Power, Association of Barangay Health Workers-NCR, Union Network International-PLC, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and the Philippine Ecumenical Action for Community Empowerment Foundation.

Third World Network director Martin Khor has said in the network’s website that last year “the World Trade Organization began a special discussion on how patents granted to drug companies have allowed them to jack up the prices of medicines, and what can be done about it.”

He said, “Fifty developing countries put forward a paper asserting that nothing in the WTO’s agreement on intellectual property (known as TRIPS) should prevent member countries from taking measures to protect public health.”

The WTO debate in a special one-day session of the WTO’s TRIPS Council in Geneva “had been called in the wake of worldwide public outrage on how the patents granted to drug companies have enabled them to jack up the prices of medicines needed to treat life-threatening diseases such as AIDS.”

The PITC had been importing much lower priced drugs from India but had been unable to increase the amount. There have been reports of pressures from drug companies on the government.


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