Cheap Medicines Bill and Quality Affordable Medicines Bill…Whatever!

August 13, 2007 at 10:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 13 Aug) – Filipino Senator Mar Roxas said approval of the quality affordable medicines bill could be fast-tracked once the members of the Senate Committees on Trade and on Health are announced, most likely during this week.

“We’re just waiting for the committees to be fully constituted, and then we’ll start the hearings as soon as possible,” he said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.

Roxas, chairman of the Committee on Trade and Commerce, said the bill had already been approved on 3rd reading in the last Congress after intense consultations and deliberations.

This, he said, could expedite deliberations in the present Congress. He said they would hold intensive public hearings and have meaningful consultations with stakeholders and experts.

Roxas filed Senate Bill No. 101, which is identical to the bill passed by the Senate on 3rd reading in the previous Congress. The bill was actively co-sponsored by Senator Pia Cayetano, who retained leadership of the Committee on Health.

As in the 13th Congress, Roxas expects the bill to be supported unanimously by his colleagues and approved on third reading once more in the Senate.

“Sixteen senators, who were present in the 13th Congress, are already familiar with the elements of this bill. I am also confident that the rest are familiar with the contents of the bill, and would support it for the sake of the public.” he said.

Roxas said that the battle for flexibilities in patent laws on medicines is an international battle, which is winning in various fronts across the globe.

“In the international front, steps are being taken to make life-saving medicines affordable and available to all. We must not be left behind,” Roxas said.

The bill provides a legal mechanism for the importation of cheaper drugs whose patents have not expired locally, otherwise known as parallel importation, already practiced among European Union nations, as well as Japan, Argentina, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

He said attempts to do such in the United States, a known bailiwick of multinational pharmaceutical interests, are gaining ground, with the recent approval by the US House of Representatives of a bill effectively allowing the importation of cheaper medicines from abroad.

SB 101 also provides an “early working doctrine” where generic drug manufacturers are allowed to experiment, produce and register patented drugs even prior to expiration of their patents. This doctrine, he noted, has already led to significant price reductions in the US, Japan, Canada, Israel and Thailand.

Lastly, the bill seeks to give government discretion in use of patents when public health is at stake, providing for a framework for the just compensation of the patent holder.

Roxas said supporters of the bill include various stakeholder groups such as the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (AGAP), the Cut the Cost, Cut the Pain Network (3CPNet), the Third World Network, among other civil society and people’s groups; international organizations such as the World Health Organization and OXFAM International.

And also the local pharmaceutical industry, through the Philippine Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industry (PCPI) and the Drugstores Association of the Philippines (DSAP); as well as government agencies such as the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry, the Intellectual Property Office, the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), among others.

Pharmaceutical firms have allegedly put up as much as P1-billion lobby fund to derail the passage of a bill seeking to reduce medicine prices.

Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas warned multinational pharmaceutical firms against carrying out their plan, saying, the government is firm in supporting the “Cheap Medicine Bill.”

“Our people desperately need access to affordable medicine. The new Congress has no other recourse but to quickly pass the bill. It is bad enough that the previous Congress failed to pass the bill,” Gullas said.

Gullas earlier introduced House Bill 307, his version of the Cheap Medicine Bill. The measure is comparable to the bill previously introduced by Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron.

Last month, Biron accused multinational drug firms of putting up the money to allegedly “kill” the Cheap Medicine Bill.

Gullas’ bill seeks to provide Filipinos increased access to inexpensive drugs by reinforcing the parallel importation scheme of the state-owned and by allowing any entity to import patented drugs sold cheaper in other countries.

Gullas said the country’s health protection remains grossly inadequate, with only one of every three citizens covered by medical insurance.

He said the government’s insufficient financial resources have hampered universal health insurance coverage.

As a result, Filipinos have to take out of their own pockets more than 40 percent of all health-related spending, including the purchase of high-priced medicines.

“Congress should promptly relax existing patent rules by declaring that parallel importation will not violate trademarks, as long as the drugs brought in are determined to be genuine counterparts produced in other countries,” Gullas said.

“Allowing unrestrained competition is one sure way for Congress to help drive down drug prices, and make them more affordable to most Filipinos.”

Based on the finding of previous congressional inquiries, dozens of branded drugs that are now being sold here at prohibitive prices, may in fact be imported and sold here for much less.

For example, a branded amlodipine which costs P44.75 in the Philippines sells only P6 in India. And branded drugs such as Mefenamic acid that costs P20.98 in the country sells for about P2.80 in India and P1.46 in Pakistan.

And same with branded loperamide hydrochloric acid that usually costs P10.70 only sells P1.94 in Pakistan.

The PITC imports about 90 cheap medicines that are being sold to the public through Botika ng Bayan outlets. The 1,345 outlets nationwide will be increased to 2,000 by year’s end.

This year, the PITC plans to import from Pakistan and India an additional P500-million worth of medicines, mainly for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and tuberculosis.

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