In 1988, the Philippines was one of the first countries in Asia to pass a law on generic drugs. This law allowed for the local production of generic drugs, which was meant to broaden access to medicines, as well as lower their prices. But 19 years later, the Philippines has some of the highest prices of drugs in the region, second only to Japan. As a result, almost three-quarters of our population cannot afford the drugs they need to get and stay healthy.
“Dati, ang term, noncompliance,” relates Gene Alzona Nisperos, MD, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD). “Yung noncompliance kasi, reresitahan ka, ‘O, bili ka ng 28 na piraso nito.’ Ang bibilhin mo lang, 10. Pag gumaling ka okey na, kasi nakatipid ka. Ngayon, non-adherence na. Gusto niya talagang mag-comply, pero hindi niya kaya dahil mahal.”
It remains to be asked: Why the faint-inducing sticker price? Overpricing or price-fixing–from the drug makers all the way to the drug stores–is the culprit. This is according to Angelito Mendoza, co-convenor of the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-kayang Presyo Coalition (AGAP). “I say overpricing because they are priced something like 300 percent more [and upwards],” Mendoza laments.
From ownership of the patents on medicines down to retail sales for us consumers, it is not too hard to get an idea of what the sickly Filipino is facing: big businesses. Monopolies even, as suggested by the World Bank. How did such a situation come about? One answer lies in patents protected by the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines.
“A patent in itself is a monopoly,” Dr. Nisperos says. “In recognition of the pharmaceutical company’s efforts, they give them a monopoly [on that medicine].” He adds that due to the stunted national drug industry, competition cannot drive down the prices. “Dito, walang kumpitensya. So they can actually dictate the price of a drug and base it on what the market can bear. Ang pricing nila, hindi based on cost of production.”
Although our government has some efforts to drive down the prices of certain drugs, the fact of the matter that we don’t have our own national/public drug manufacturer, these private drug companies can dictate the prices of their drugs.
My view, our situation now is the same as in a movie, “The Informant”. Our government should invest a part of their budget to build our own national drug factory.
Thank you for reading and God Bless the Philippines!