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Consumers’ Action for Empowerment: Make prices of medicine affordable now!

The government should compel multinational pharmaceutical corporations to make their prices affordable for Filipinos instead of giving them the option of voluntary compliance, says consumer group, Consumers’ Action for Empowerment.
Launched in February 20, 2009, the group is composed of over a hundred members from different Metro Manila-based religious institutions, health professional organizations, community-based health programs, and people’s organizations.

Eleanor M. Nolasco, RN, one of Consumers’ Action for Empowerment conveners said that Mrs. Arroyo’s obvious hesitance in giving relief to millions of poor and ailing Filipinos only goes to show her utter subservience to the interests of transnational corporations.

Last July 8, 2009, pharma industry giants Pfizer, Wyeth, Roche, and Sanofi sought an audience with Mrs. Arroyo in Malacaňang. Others present were representatives from Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and Department of Health (DOH). The meeting tackled concerns of the industry’s big players on the imposition of a Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP). Their basic position is to allow market forces and competition to decide drug prices, instead of the government setting a ceiling.

For decades, many poor people have suffered and died because they cannot buy exorbitantly-priced medicine. The billions of profit that they have amassed after decades of control on medicine prices should be enough for them to consider the poor’s sake this time,” said Nolasco.

She also assailed Mrs. Arroyo’s indecisiveness in standing behind the people’s right to low-cost and effective medicine by exercising her executive prerogative to impose MDRP on essential medicines. “Why should she provide a 10-day window period for these profit-driven companies to decide on voluntary compliance? If the president of the Republic of the Philippines is genuinely sincere in lowering medicine retail prices, she should demand and not appeal to these companies to substantially slash their prices to even lower than 50%.” Furthermore, the convener said, for every single day that Mrs. Arroyo hesitates to put her foot down on making essential medicine accessible, the thousands of Filipinos, barely on survival income, are further deprived of money they could have used to buy food and other necessities.

Meanwhile, Nolasco bashed Pfizer’s discount card offer to DOH amounting to P100 million saying the attempt is antamount to bribery. She challenged Pfizer’s recent open letter addressed to the Filipino people, “If Pfizer indeed has ‘absolute commitment to the people of the Philippines to do what’s right legally and ethically’, why don’t they just slash their prices and let all patients benefit from their medicines at a lower cost instead of just limiting the discounts to 1.8 million Sulit Cardholders.”

Nolasco stressed that the public should not be misled into believing that the pending executive order on Maximum Drug Retail Price will be the end to decades of stranglehold by multinational companies of the local drug industry. “While the MDRP is a welcome step towards regulating medicine prices, a short-term Drug Price Regulatory Board represented by different stakeholders should be in place.

She added that a crucial element in making essential medicines accessible to the people is the development of a self-reliant national drug industry that is responsive to the health needs of the Filipinos. “The government should provide incentives to the industry’s small local players such as tax holidays and exemptions as well as lower fees on different BFAD requirements,” she said.

One year has passed but RA 9502 failed to keep its promise of making essential medicines accessible to the people. The law failed primarily because it does not have any provision which removes the control and influence of foreign pharmaceutical companies on all aspects of the industry. These giant companies are not expected to just give up their control over the market from where they rake in huge profits. Hence, the Filipino people should remain ever vigilant and expose possible illicit relationships and sweetheart deals struck between these pharmaceutical companies and willing locals.

The need of Filipinos for efficacious and affordable essential medicines can only be met when a strong national healthcare system is in place and under a government whose policies are in the best interest of its people,” she concluded.#