THE Consumers’ Action for Empowerment (CAE) said the multinational pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the high prices of medicines in the country.

CAE in a statement said the transnational corporations (TNCs) are responsible for making the Philippines a country of expensive medicines.

It added that given the high poverty incidence, the Philippines ranks among the top countries in Asia where medicines are most expensive, owing to the fact that it has no drug industry of its own.

“TNCs control the entire essential drug production chain from manufacturing, distribution and retail. Hence, they dictate the high prices of medicines,” CAE said.

“In its analysis in June’s commemoration of the sixth year implementation of the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008 or RA 9502, CAE said that given the monopoly control, the Cheaper Medicines Law cannot make any significant change in reversing the inaccessibility of essential medicines for the people,” said Julie Caguiat, M.D., CAE convener.

Caguiat cited (Nifedipine) Adalat Retard (20 mg) manufactured by Bayer pegged at P43.45 per tablet in most drugstores in the Philippines based on 2010 prices while the same brand and preparation can be bought in India at P1.44 per tablet.

The same is true with (Mefenamic Acid) Ponstan (500 mg) manufactured by Pfizer which is bought in the country for P25.77. The same drug can be bought in India at P2.96.

“Why are the same brands of medicines cheaper in India? It is because, unlike our government which succumbs to the dictates of these TNCs, India imposed strict regulations, decisively curbing the control of TNCs in its drug industry,” explained Caguiat.

Systemic corruption

Caguiat furthered that the poor bear the burden of expensive medicines where a 2012 research done by Ibon Foundation reports that the average family spent P7,018 for health whereas the government allotted a measly P912.50 per person that year; the bottom half of the households spend an average of 49 percent of their total health expenses for medicines; there is no capitation for primary care and 80 percent of pharmacy sales are on outpatient.

“The government cannot argue anymore that there is no sufficient fund for health or medicines for that matter. The Aquino government reeks of systemic corruption,” Caguiat added.

CAE calls on the government to undertake immediate measures to make essential medicines accessible to the people by removing the monopoly control of TNCs in medicine prices; remove 12 percent of VAT in essential medicines; ensure free essential medicines in public hospitals; abolish the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and allocate bigger budget for health including providing for free essential medicines for the poor,” Caguiat said.

The CAE is a loose coalition of organizations, institutions, and individuals from the basic sectors of the society as well as professional and religious organizations that promote consumers' right to accessible, safe and affordable essential medicines and asserts government’s role in ensuring this right.