(About AGAP)

Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-kayang Presyo (AGAP) Coalition

Rationale

The Philippines is one of the first countries in the region to pass a law on generics drugs, but it appears it has not significantly brought down the prices of medicines in the country. The prices of medicines is one of the highest in the region. Studies made in 1999 by the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry showed that five out of the nine drugs sampled cost more in the Philippines than in Malaysia or Indonesia. Another study done by the NGO Health Action International showed that Amoxil, an antibiotic manufactured by a multinational, sells at a higher price in the Philippines than in the United Kingdom or Canada. The Philippines ranks second to Japan in having the highest medicine prices in Asia. Medicines in the Philippines are 18 times more expensive than India or Canada.

This is very ironic as the Philippines has also adopted policies on compulsory licensing, government use and parallel importation. But data from the WHO Health Report 2004 shows that the Philippines’ total expenditure on health in 2001 as a percentage of gross domestic product was 3.3%, no wonder it ranks 83rd in the UN Human Development Report. In contrast, smaller and less developed countries like Malta and Tonga ranked 31st and 63rd respectively in the human development index and their health expenditure as a percentage of their GDP was 6.3% for Malta and 7.8% for Tonga.

While current difficulties of the Philippines’ fiscal situation might mean that the country’s health budget cannot be expected to solve the country’s health woes, advocating for changes in the country’s policies on promoting access to medicines might help alleviate the situation.

Among the current policies that need reexamination are the country’s laws on intellectual property rights such as patents and trademarks. The present Intellectual Property Code (Republic Act 8293) has certain provisions that make it difficult for the local drug manufacturers to enter the market. Among the difficulties of local drug manufacturers are the matter of securing compulsory licensing from research-based multinational companies where they are mired in litigation for so many years before they can actually start negotiations. Still another difficulty is the inability to make parallel importation of cheaper drugs from India and Pakistan without being threatened with damages for infringing on the patents held by companies in the Philippines. Another problem is difficulty of small companies to do research on drugs whose patents are about to expire in order that they can commercialize the generic equivalents of such drugs at or right after the expiration of patents of the patented drugs.

These difficulties ensure the predominant situation of multinational drug companies in the Philippines, where they control around 70% of the PhP80-100 billion market.

Sen. Mar Roxas has recently filed Senate Bill 2139 to address these provisions of the Intellectual Property Code and enable a level playing field in the local pharmaceutical industry, such that generic equivalents of patented drugs can be easily brought into the market and provide lower-priced equivalents that are within the reach of poor Filipinos. The bill is very much opposed by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), the organization of so-called research-based or multinational drug companies in the Philippines. It is expected that the lawyer-senators whose law firms have retainership agreements with some members of the PHAP will oppose this bill.

This issue is recently highlighted by the suit of Pfizer Philippines, Inc. against the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), the government agency tasked to do parallel importation of lower-priced medicines from India and Pakistan as well as the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), an attached agency of the Department of Health which regulates the registration of medicines before they are marketed in the country. Pfizer’s suit alleges the infringement by these government agencies of its patent on amlodipine besylate or Norvasc, which is set to expire in June 2007. The suit will delay for some eighteen months after the expiry of Pfizer’s patent, the introduction of generic equivalents of Norvasc, which is a maintenance drug of people suffering from hypertension.

These developments show the need to have an alliance of civil society groups, consumers, trade unions and health professionals to support the beleaguered government agencies and to fight for promoting access to medicines for all Filipinos, which is not limited to supporting SB 2139, but with the advocacy of enlightened policies that will not only bring down the prices of medicines but to enable all Filipinos to have access to such medicines as well.

Objectives

1. Create an enabling environment for the public to have access to quality, affordable and therapeutically equivalent medicines and place the public’s right of access to affordable medicines of equal therapeutic value and collateral issues in the national agenda

2. Lobby for amendments to the Intellectual Property Code, taking into account the flexibilities provided by the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health and rally support for legislative proposals such as SB 2139 and similar bills in Congress to promote a level playing field in the Philippine drug market;

3. Advocate for reforms in current national policies to promote the public’s right of access to affordable medicines such as the current procurement and health care insurance policies of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and the existing practices in pharmaceutical distribution and retail that hinder the attainment of lower prices and physical availability of generic medicines in all provinces in the Philippines, among other policies;

4. Promote traditional and alternative health care practices;

5. Campaign for the strict implementation of the Generics Act of 1988

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