21 JANUARY 2008
P C I J I N V E S T I G A T I O N — WILL PUBLIC HEALTH TRUMP PATENTS IN CONGRESS?
THE NON-MANUFACTURING DRUG INDUSTRY
Yet while the Philippine drug industry remains far from having India’s economies of scale and the heavy investments in science and technology, there are now a few local companies like United Laboratories, Elin Pharmaceuticals, and Pascual Laboratories that are engaged in the manufacture of active substances. Besides, says BFAD’s Ramos, if the country invokes the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS flexibilities, compulsory licensing can be extended to countries with manufacturing capability to cover the needs of those without such capability.
Still, for all the hopes being pinned on the passage of the affordable medicines law to either usher in amendments to the Intellectual Property Code, or a drug price regulation scheme, or both, there are those who acknowledge it is not going to be a magic pill.
“No bill filed in the 14th Congress could single-handedly lower the price of medicines,” admits Akbayan party-list Rep. Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel. She says that to bring down the exorbitant price of medicines in the country, a more comprehensive legislation is necessary.
Such a situation is rooted in a complex mix of problems involving dynamic forces that affect the market, the industry, doctors and health professionals, and patients, plus the reality of national poverty. What future legislations will have to provide are solutions to the issues that observers say the current bills failed to address. Among these are the fundamental problems of market failure in pharmaceuticals, the need for true quality generics competing fairly in the Philippine market, the need for monitoring and limiting unethical promotions, advertising, and marketing practices that influence prescribing and add to the cost of drugs.
In the meantime, doctors like Rosan Badon who deal with impoverished patients have become innovative. Badon says she has even resorted to prescribing traditional Chinese medicine to some of her very poor patients, reasoning that it would be useless anyway to prescribe a modern drug that they will not be able to afford.
For hypertensive patients, for example, Badon recommends tiny pechay seeds that are stuck to a piece of bandage and are then placed at the back of one’s head. “This is actually part of acupuncture,” says the doctor, who is also an acupuncturist. She also explains that the treatment is part of a holistic approach. “We also advocate a low-salt diet and a healthy lifestyle,” she says.
But Badon says extremely poor patients see a doctor only when they already feel very ill, which makes it more difficult to treat them. Ironically, that is almost always because they feared they would not be able to afford the medicine they needed to get better in the first place.
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