Make medicines accessible to the people
The Coalition for People’s Right to Health (CPRH) welcomes the recent move of the Department of Health to draft an administrative order on the implementation of the maximum retail price for drugs and medicines. However, it will take more than just compelling pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices to truly make medicines accessible to all Filipinos.
CPRH believes that recognizing the root causes of why medicines are expensive is essential. First, there is monopoly or control by foreign transnational companies (TNCs) of the drug industry in the Philippines.
The Philippines is the 11th most attractive pharmaceutical market in the Asia-Pacific region and the third-largest pharmaceutical market in Asean, after Indonesia and Thailand.
According to IMS Consulting for the Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association of the Philippines, the country’s pharmaceutical industry is projected to grow by 4.5 percent annually over the next five years, reaching P164 billion in 2018 from P146 billion in 2014.
These figures have proven to be very promising for TNC pharmaceutical companies. Of the world’s Top 20 pharmaceutical companies, over 14 have manufacturing facilities in the Philippines. It was also reported that foreign drug companies account for over 75 percent of the pharmaceutical market.
Second, high price is dictated through the World Trade Organization-Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (WTO-TRIPS) Agreement. Under TRIPS, transnational drug companies have the right to impose patents on their products. This means that TNCs gain the right to exclusively manufacture, use and sell patented medicine. Each patent has a minimum effectivity of 20 years.
Third, there is no independent local drug industry in the Philippines. According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, 15 multinational pharmaceuticals control 66 percent of total industry sales, while 30 percent go to
But multinational pharmaceutical companies are heavily dependent on imports of active ingredients and technology that they become mere traders of finished and raw drugs.
Some multinational pharmaceuticals are purely importers. The Philippines has over 500 drug traders, 700 drug importers and 5,000 drug distributors, the report said.
Lastly, the Philippine National Drug Policy and the cheaper medicines law of 2008 are limited and not fully implemented.
To meaningfully make medicines accessible to the people, CPRH pushes for the removal of the 12-percent VAT on medicines as an immediate measure. For the long-term, CPRH believes that a
self-reliant national drug industry responsive to the health needs of the people should be developed.
JULIE P. CAGUIAT, MD
Coalition for People’s Right to Health
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