on MDG 15 and Affordable Medicines

Posted on August 25, 2006. Filed under: Resources |

This MDG target talked about providing access to affordable essential drugs, but the report delved more about the prices going down 60.9% which was beyond the 50% target, through the GMA 50 program. While such effort is commendable and should be sustained further, the more relevant question to ask is whether the lower prices enabled more segments of the population to get access to drugs. The report noted only 66% of the country’s population had access to essential medicines, which is a 1999 figure – with the current period taken into account by the report, did that figure increase or decrease ? We do not know and the report preferred not to delve into it, perhaps the figures have shown a worsening trend towards lack of access.

The report discussed the conduct of parallel drug imports as a means to reduce drug prices, but did it say how much money was actually provided for this? As far as sources gathered by AGAP will show, the money for this program, which may reach up to P 500 million this year 2006, is not even enough to create a dent in a market which has a total market value of around Php 80-100 billion. Thus, the worry is that this program will not create even a ripple, and even the 800 Botika ng Barangays set up is a not even a drop in a bucket in a country with over 40,000 barangays, no matter how strategically located they may be in giving access to medicines to the ordinary hard-up citizen buffeted by spiraling costs not only of medicine but in all basic commodities resulting from the almost-weekly oil price increases which the government is not doing something about.

But aside from the magnitude or the lack thereof of this parallel import program, a way to make it sustainable has not been discussed by the report, which is through an amendment of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 8293)  by way of removing the national exhaustion of patent rights principle in its sec. 72.1 and replacing it with an international exhaustion of patent rights principle such that groups who wish to buy branded medicines in countries where their comparative prices are lower, such as India and Pakistan, will not be stopped by the same patent holders in the Philippines claiming that their patent rights are not being respected. With this international exhaustion of patent rights principle in place, it means that the rights of the patent holder are already used up once the patented product is bought from elsewhere outside the Philippines.

The Philippines can very well adopt this principle as this is what is also provided by the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health which the Philippines also signed on to in Doha, Qatar in November 2001, during the 3rd  WTO Ministerial Conference held around that time.

One final point, as the Philippines seeks a partnership with the drug companies, it should make clear to these companies that the public health interest is paramount and the patent rights of these companies to their drugs are subject to the right of government to create exceptions to it during times of national emergency or circumstances of extreme urgency.
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AGAP’s comments on the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) Target 15: Provide access to affordable  essential drugs in cooperation with pharmaceutical companies

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