Executive Order 821 took shape under a cloud of public suspicion as big pharmaceutical firms, whose representatives were frantically lobbying and holding talks with Malacañang and public officials, were reported to have offered bribes and other inducements to counter any attempt to regulate prices.
The bribes were spurned, Duque said, but in his recommendations, he had listed only 21 out of 600 essential drugs to be capped with a maximum retail price. After talks between Malacañang and representatives of big pharmaceutical firms, the list was further cut to just five drugs. The big pharmaceutical firms offered to voluntarily reduce the prices of the other 16 drugs in the DOH list, a move that was greeted with skepticism.
“History has proven that the biggest obstructions to making drugs affordable in this country are the drug transnational corporations (TNCs) themselves,” said the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), a progressive health NGO. “The last 25 years reveal how big pharmaceuticals plotted and schemed to subvert all efforts to reduce the prices of their medicine.”
Malacañang also decided to peg the effectivity of EO 821, today, Aug. 15, prompting strong reactions. “Why wait this long?” asked a Dr. Elmer in his blog. Meanwhile, he wrote, “chronically-ill patients whose survival depends on these medicines will bear the unnecessary risk of becoming worse or dying.”
Doubtful Efficacy of EO 821
Pharmacies have opposed the Cheaper Medicines Law. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / bulatlat.com)
Starting today, the prices of five specific medicines be cut by half. These include the anti-hypertensive amlodipine, the anti-cholesterol atorvastatin, the antibiotic/antibacterial azithromycin and the anti-neoplastics/anti-cancer cytarabine and doxorubicin.
Signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last July 27, EO 821 marked the first time she exercised the mandate given her by the Cheaper Medicines Law. But instead of earning praises, her executive order’s efficacy is being doubted by consumers and health service providers themselves.
EO 821 is “deceitful and illusory,” said Eleanor M. Nolasco, a registered nurse and spokesperson of the CAE. Essentially, the consumers’ group said EO 821 will not respond to the people’s need for safe, affordable medicines.
EO 821 should have included “more essential medicines that are most widely used and are first-line medicines needed for the treatment and cure of more prevalent diseases in the country,” Nolasco said. She cited the medicines needed to treat the 10 leading causes of morbidity and mortality, which include respiratory diseases, pneumonia and tuberculosis, among others.
While the CAE commended the price regulation of medicines as “a step in the right direction,” it appears the step is far too small to truly matter. They said the maximum drug retail prices (MDRP) set for the five selected medicines in EO 821 are misleading.