Small drugstore owners blame solons for expensive medicines

Posted on May 28, 2006. Filed under: News |

By Marie Surbano
Published on May 28, 2006 issue of The Daily Tribune

Small drugstore owners and a consumers group have accused some members of the House of the Representatives of receiving perks from multi-national companies, reason why prices of medicines in the country keep soaring.

Raul Segovia, head of the Citizens Alliance for Consumer Protection, revealed several lawmakers are “involved in the pricing of goods” to control the costs of medicines in the market.

Citing a report from the World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva, Segovia said high cost of medicine is a global problem which is primarily caused by governments’ decision to grant patents to multi-national pharmaceutical companies.

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

Like Segovia, Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan of the Philippine International Trading Corp., said while the patents of about 85 percent of drugs in the country have already expired, their prices remain high because of an alleged “cartel.”

Pagdanganan added a great number of pharmaceutical firms are employing the “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 costs. In 2001, they placed this at $802 million for each new drug they bring to the market,” Pagdanganan said, adding such strategy is a way to trick the consumers and the government to ensure they would have their patents extended.

According to Pagdanganan, this practice makes “the Philippines the country with the highest costs of drugs in Asia next only to Japan.

Drugs sold in the Philippines, according to Pagdanganan, are estimated to reach as high as 40 to 200 percent compared to neighboring countries considering the country was the first to enact the Generics Law.

Pagdanganan said while the country’s drug spending from 1997 to 2001 was pegged at $1.1 billion, it is still sad that half of the 85 million Filipinos “do not have access to essential drugs.” He also noted three out of five Filipinos who get sick do not get to see a doctor.

Former Sen. Wigberto Tañada, also a member of the coalition, said 70 percent of about P100 billion that drug companies earn every year goes to multi-national firms that have the “power and influence” on “those who are in and out of government.”
But despite the challenge, Tañada said the coalition will not be shaken and instead vowed to campaign to make the prices of drugs cheaper and affordable.

“Currently, there are about 20 to 26 pharmaceutical companies that are giving congressmen perks and other financial assistance,” Segovia said.

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