Drug Importation

Healthbeat 2001 No. 5.jpgHealthbeat 2001 No. 5.jpg

Shortly after President Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn into presidency, she stressed the government’s firm commitment to bring the prices of medicine to levels that are more accessible to the majority of the people, particularly the poor. (Philippine Star, Mar. 15)

The DOH could not agree more to the President’s words as it said that local branded drugs are indeed costlier by 40-700% compared to other Asian countries. (Manila Standard, Mar. 4)

Soon after, low priced medicines imported under the parallel drug importation program of the health and trade and industry departments became available in 30 government hospitals nationwide. These medicines are salbutamol (ventolin), bechlomethasone (belcoforte/becoride), ateniol (tenormin), cotrimoxazole (bacterium/septrin/septran), glibenclamide (daonil), and nifedipine (adalat retard). (Today, June 12)

Seeing the merit of the program, private hospitals began expressing their interest over retailing imported medicines at reasonable prices to the poor. (Kabayan, June 27)

Despite massive criticisms from local pharmaceutical companies, the DOH said that the importation of lower-priced medicines would stay. The DOH said that the high price of drugs is one big factor that makes healthcare inaccessible to many Filipino indigents. (Daily Tribune, July 16)

At the start of August, the DOH belied accusations that it is “choking” the local drug industry through its importation program from India, where medicines are priced 50 to 70 percent lower. The DOH pointed out that the indigent is already mired in financial problems and as a result could not support their medicinal needs. The DOH said that the first shipment of drugs worth P5 million, arrived in May last year while the second shipment, worth P20 million, arrived last January. (Daily Tribune, Aug.1)

It was also in early August when local government units prepared to join the national government’s campaign to bring down the prices of medicine to make them affordable for the poor. Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said that local government units wanted to join the initial group of 30 government hospitals that are currently the main outlets of “Presyong Tama, Gamot Pampamilya” program. The said program carries a “specially selected group of high quality, branded but low priced medicine”, imported from India by the DTI’s Philippine International Trading Corporation. (PD Inquirer, Aug. 9)

By the middle of August, multinational companies claimed that some government-imported drugs from India are fake or substandard. They, however, denied spreading the rumors and noted instead that their association (Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines or PHAP) had received reports from Indian authorities that many of the drugs exported from their country were either substandard or fake. The DOH, in response, said that if PHAP’s claim is true, then its member companies could be selling fake or substandard drugs as well since the government imported the drugs from the same companies’ laboratories in India. (Manila Meteor, Aug. 22)

Before the end of the month though, PHAP signified its support to the government’s effort to improve accessibility of inexpensive medicines, but expressed concern over the proliferation of counterfeit drugs and substandard medicines being passed off as imported from India and Pakistan. (Malaya, Aug. 30)

In September, the program on parallel drug imports suffered another big blow after it was found out that the imported medicines are not selling as it was expected. To get to the bottom of the problem, the DTI started a probe on the reports. The trade department ordered a review of the parallel importation program after discovering that “only 1 to 10% of the cheap medicines had been moving through the market in the country”. Officials found it strange that the public would not patronize lower-priced drugs. Reports said that the DTI might have stumbled on the likely culprits: doctors in the provinces whose prescriptions depend on the pharmaceutical companies sponsoring them. (PD Inquirer, Sept. 29)