With Cheaper Medicine Bill, Still No Access to Low-Cost Essential Medicine

With Cheaper Medicine Bill, Still No Access to Low-Cost Essential Medicine

Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 45, December 16-22, 2007

The 14th Congress is wrapping up legislative measures on CHEAPER MEDICINE with the Senate finishing ahead as it approved on third hearing Senate Bill 1658. The lower house is still to approve House Bill 2844, a consolidation of 23 house bills. Both houses of Congress promised to “bring prices of essential medicines” within the reach of the people through the legislation of the bill on cheaper medicines.
But can the Cheaper Medicine Bill really lower the prices of medicine?

While the legislation of the Cheaper Medicine Act is a positive development, we at the KilosBayan para sa Kalusugan (KBK) are not very optimistic that the people will really have access to low-cost essential medicines through the much-boast about Bill. However, while our senators and congressmen take pride of the bills they passed and are still deliberating on in the lower house, we believe that both versions of the bill failed to significantly address and solve why prices of medicines in the country are very expensive and how their prices may be significantly lowered.

In the comprehensive and strategic sense, the Cheaper Medicine Act does not make any single mention about the need to develop our own national drug industry.

Scientific research, development and manufacture of local essential drugs could not flourish given the present restrictions on trade and lack of government support.

One of the most decisive steps in really lowering the prices of medicine is to develop our own national drug industry just like what India and Pakistan have done in the last 10 years.

The KBK is disappointed that the Cheaper Medicine Bill did not tackle the problem.

The house bill sponsored by party list representatives of Bayan Muna proposes provisions on supporting the local drug manufacturers by giving them tax incentives but this, we fear, will not even pass inclusion to the final version of the house bill.

The Cheaper Medicine Act is silent about the control of multi-national corporations in the marketing, distribution and pricing of medicine.

Sadly, we at the KBK feel that the proposed amendments to some sections of the IPC are still to a large degree protective of the interests of the transnational drug firms. We are disappointed that the Cheaper Medicine Act did not stand for the people on crucial TRIPS-WTO issues such compulsory licensing and selective parallel importation of essential medicines after extensive government testing for safety and efficacy.

The creation of a Drug Price Regulatory Board could be one crucial step in lowering the prices of medicine.

The creation of a Drug Price Regulatory Board is one of the concrete short-term solutions proposed by KBK in regard lowering (read: controlling TNC-dictated high prices) of essential medicines.

KBK fears that with the aggressive lobbying of drug TNCs the House Bill will surely encounter rough sailing. We therefore challenge the members of the House of Representatives to resist the TNC pressure and stand for the interest of the people.

However, KilosBayan para sa Kalusugan believes that on the whole, the Cheaper Medicine Act that is now in the final process of being enacted into a law WILL NOT deliver on its promise of really providing cheaper medicines for the people.

Once again, KilosBayan para sa Kalusugan reiterates the following recommendations:

Strategically, access to essential medicines can only be ensured by formulating a comprehensive pro-people national policies and programs that will:

· Develop a self-reliant national drug industry that is responsive to the medical and health needs of the people.
· Develop the technology to refine and extract raw materials and chemicals.
· Tap the medicinal potential of indigenous and herbal plants in the Philippines through government-sponsored research and development.
· Develop a self-reliant industry to provide the essential medicines needed by the people.

While working towards the long term solutions stated above, it is also important to undertake immediately do-able measures to make medicines low-cost, safe, and effective, such as:

· Regulate prices based on the production cost and reasonable profit.
· Selective parallel importation of essential medicines after extensive government testing for safety and efficacy.
· Assert compulsory licensing.
· Implement National Drugs Policy and Generic Law.
· Provide incentive to local drug manufacturers to ensure production of medicines (i.e. tax holiday, tax exemption, reduction of VAT, etc.).
· Create a transitory drug price regulatory board with the following characteristics:
o Life span of 3-5 years
o Represented by stakeholders (i.e. academe, consumers, health professionals, etc.)
o With independent selection process

KilosBayan para sa Kalusugan/posted by Bulatlat

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