Team Unity supports cheap, high-quality drug imports

May. 10, 2007

MANILA — Team Unity senatorial candidates support the “parallel importation” of low-priced drugs, as a way to expand the poor’s access to cheaper medicine and health care.

Supporting such parallel imports are senatorial bets Vic Magsaysay, Luis “Chavit” Singson, Prospero Pichay, Edgardo Angara, Ralph Recto, Tito Sotto, Tessie Aquino-Oreta, Sultan Jamalul Kiram, Mike Defensor, Migz Zubiri and Cesar Montano.

At the same time, Montano and Singson cited the potentials of alternative herbal-based medicines and urged the local pharmaceutical industry to develop such drugs to cut the country’s dependence on imported medicines.

Pichay said, meanwhile, that such imports should be balanced, though, with the need to sustain the viability of the local pharmaceutical industry.

Montano said of drug importation: “That’s a good idea. But another option is to support locally-made drugslike herbal medicines. In doing so, we are also providing jobs to our countrymen.”

Singson, on the other hand, said he favors the parallel importation of low-priced medicines “as it redounds to the benefit of the great majority of our countrymen. However, I also believe that we must resolutely pursue a comprehensive health program that includes allocation of substantial research and development funds for alternative herbal-based medicines.”

Drugs made from indigenous materials abound in the Philippines, Singson stressed.

Pichay said the proposal is acceptable but there should be a balance between importation of low-priced medicines and the need to let the local drug industry continue to be viable.

“We need to import low-priced medicines to help our countrymen cope with the high drug prices but we don’t also want to kill the local drug industry. So there should be a balance,” Pichay said.

Defensor said, “notwithstanding the implementation of generics law, we have not been successful in reducing the price of medicines. We are implementing the Botika ng Bayan and the Botika ng Barangay in coordination with the Department of Health and the PITC. I agree to the importation of medicine if this will benefit the public.”

Zubiri said, “the high cost of medicine affects the poor more than the rich. Thus, it is only right and in the interest of the Filipinos for the government to find ways to lower medicine prices. This could be done by buying low-priced medicines abroad, fostering the local generic medicine industry, eliminating monopoly of big medicine manufacturers, and placing prices of essential and life-saving medicine under government control.

“Not only manufactured medicine can be imported. Technologies in the manufacture of medicines with expired patents can also be adopted in the country by drug companies, so we can make cheaper medicines,” Zubiri added.

Angara said, “caring for one’s health is a personal responsibility for most people but, for me, it is my public duty. I have helped institutionalize a National Health Insurance Program thru PhilHealth, pushed for the creation of the National Institutes of Health to promote health R & D, and rallied behind the Generics Act.”

“I’ll push for the increase in the elderly’s discount privileges for medicine to 34 percent by proposing amendments to Senior Citizens’ Act. I’ll support measures that will make available health support to an even bigger public even if it means importing quality low-priced medicines,” Angara added.

Kiram called for expanded health program and an increase in the budget allocation consistent with WHO standards and health services budget.

The cost of medicine in the country is one of the highest in Asia, which is a major stumbling block to improving the well-being of Filipinos, according to Aquino-Oreta.

She said, “importing low-priced medicines may be one option to address the problem. However, we must ensure that standards of quality are met. In addition, we need to strengthen the capacities of regulatory bodies such as the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Food and Drugs in order to prevent the entry of fake and substandard medicines.”

Recto said, “Like the medicines we take, importation should be of the right dosage and kind. The challenge is not to import from India, but to copy India, which has been able to provide cheap medicines to its people by manufacturing essential drugs, to the extent of skirting patent limitations.”

Importing low-priced medicines is a major step in addressing the problem of access for affordable and quality medicines, Sotto said.

“However,” Sotto said, “we must ensure the standards of quality are always met and are always met and are constantly kept updated. In the case of low-cost imported medicines, quality must be a priority. We also need to explore and develop more alternative and traditional medicines, which may be more affordable to the majority of our people.”

In addition, Sotto said there is a need to strengthen the capability of regulatory bodies such as the Bureau of Food and Drugs, in order to prevent the entry of fake and below-standard medicines.

Magsaysay also said he was in favor of the importation of low-cost medicines.###

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