A FEW years ago, Filipino school children were taught the proper way of reading a prescription – regardless of the medical doctor’s penmanship. They were taught how to interpret it and the parts of a prescription. Children as young as in elementary school were taught the difference between a generic name and a brand name of a medicine. They were taught that an “Rx” sign meant that the medicine cannot be purchased without prescription and can’t be bought over the counter only.

With the K-12 program and the overhaul of the children’s curriculum plus the long lines in pharmacies now in Metro Manila, one can’t help but wonder if basic medicine interpretation is still taught in schools. Several reports have come out that Filipinos who are in need of paracetamol (a generic name) are particularly looking for Bioflu or Biogesic (a popular branded paracetamol in the market), hence the alleged shortage. It seemed as though they are convinced that non-branded paracetamol are less effective, especially if they’re more affordable.

There are various reasons why some branded paracetamols are more expensive than others. Reasons could include (but are not limited to) patent, logistics, manufacturing, and branding and marketing among others. While Filipinos are used to buying branded paracetamol because of their good reputation in the market, it must be heavily highlighted that all paracetamol in the market work the same as others. A more expensive paracetamol does not always mean more effective. The only difference that should matter is the grammage.

Another alarming thing happening right now that might be stemming from poor medical communication is how Filipinos self-medicate and drink medicines of different brands but actually of the same generic name.

Filipinos must be more careful in reading the labels of over-the-counter medicines they buy. While some branded medicines are advertised as good for common colds, the others are good for headache or for the first few signs of a fever. When one looks thoroughly, one discovers that they all have the same generic name.

Unfortunately, not all Filipinos screen or read through the packages of their medicine. So chances are they buy branded medicine 1 for colds and branded medicine 2 for headache and drink them both at the same time, not knowing that they are of the same kind. This obviously would lead to overdose and would create a much bigger problem than just the common cold or headache being first addressed.

Maybe we can point fingers to the pharmaceutical companies for marketing their products differently, or to Ad Standards Council (ASC) for releasing ad permits to companies who may have deceiving claims, or to the Department of Education and the Department of Health for not addressing medical communication and education enough before it gets out of control like how it is now.

We can blame any agency we want but it will still boil down to how we, as Filipinos, take care of our own selves and how we put to good use our own education by reading and making sure that whatever comes in our body is safe.

Of course we would want the government to take part and be responsible for the kind of information they release (or not release) to the public but the damage has been done. Let’s take care of one another and let’s educate ourselves to the best of our capacities while we wait for a bigger scope of medical communication to come to us in the form of better curriculum for children and community education.