Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bill on cheaper drugs approved

The Senate passed Senate Bill No. 1658, the Quality Affordable Medicines Act of 2007, on final reading, as Congress resumed session after a month-long break.

“I commend my colleagues in the Senate for acting immediately to pass the Quality Affordable Medicines bill on third and final reading. Now we await the House of Representatives to pass their version, so we can immediately convene a bicameral conference committee hearing,” Roxas, primary author of SB 1658, said.

“The good thing is that we now have time on our side. This should not, however, be an excuse to sit on the bill. The more time the House and Senate have to discuss and reconcile the versions of the bill, the more responsive the bill could be for our countrymen’s health needs,” Roxas added.

SB 1658 was passed last October 2, and enjoys the support of the Departments of Health and Trade, groups such as the World Health Organization, Oxfam and Ayos na Gamot sa Abot Kayang Presyo (AGAP), and members of the academe such as Felipe Medalla and Rene Azurin, both of the University of the Philippines.

The bill will ease patent laws and bring in more affordable medicines abroad, helping spur competition to bring down prices. For instance, he noted how a common maintenance drug for diabetes, Daonil, costs P9.86 locally for a 5-mg tablet, which is taken twice a day. The same tablet however could be bought from India for less than one peso at roughly P.80.

Another diabetes treatment drug, Diamicron, costs P11 locally for a 30-mg tablet, taken twice a day. The same tablet can be bought for P5 from Pakistan and P7.57 from India , up to P12 savings in a day.

First among SB 1658’s provisions are the proposed amendments to the Intellectual Property Code which seek to allow the parallel importation of more affordable medicines from abroad; support the generics industry by adopting the “early working” principle and to disallow the grant of new patents on grounds of “new use;” and give ample muscle to the government through a framework for government use and compulsory licensing.

The bill also recommends strengthening the Bureau of Food and Drugs to serve as a counterfoil to attempts to bring in fake or substandard medicines by allowing BFAD to retain its operating income from fees and other charges so it could upgrade its facilities and beef up its human resources.

The bill also contains provisions allowing the President to impose drug price ceilings in times of calamity, public health emergencies, events that cause artificial and unreasonable price hikes, the prevalence of illegal price manipulation and whenever prevailing prices have risen to unreasonable levels. Roxas said that this mechanism is patterned after the provisions of the Price Act.

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