Monday, December 17, 2007

Pass Cheaper Medicines Bill Now!

Senior citizens in the Philippines pay more for their medicine than seniors in any other countries in Asia. The monopoly of large pharmaceutical companies is the culprit behind the exorbitant price of medicines in the country. Congress should pass the measure on cheaper medicines to break this monopoly and to improve access to essential drugs for the benefit of our people. Any further delay in the enactment and implementation of the bill would do more harm on public health. - Alvin

Pharmas waging a proxy war against cheaper medicines bill

AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros said today that despite the uncharacteristic silence of multinational pharmaceutical companies on the cheaper medicines bill, they appear to be waging a proxy war inside the House of Representatives.

“We want to have the bill approved before the Christmas break, but there are killer amendments to the committee report that without doubt would benefit the big bad pharmas,” Rep. Hontiveros said. “The last three session days before the Christmas break would be a battleground to strip the bill of its essence, and wittingly or unwittingly, some amendments coincide with the interests of pharmas and would in effect water down the bill.”

“The soul of the cheaper medicines bill is the set of amendments to the Intellectual Property Code (IPC), and that’s the target of pharmaceutical companies because its inclusion would hurt their multi-million profits,” said Rep. Hontiveros, principal author of three bills that revise the IPC, amend the Generics law, and introduce price regulation through PhilHealth. “The bill would not work at all without these amendments.”

But she added that the proponents of the bill would not allow these killer amendments to be approved. “We can’t accept these amendments. Their inclusion would be a victory for expensive drugs and abusive pharmas. We’d be fooling the people if we approve a watered-down version of the bill,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

She said that contrary to the claims of Rep. Garcia, the existing IPC has been rendered obsolete by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). “The existing IPC has been impaired by TRIPS, whose patents system gave pharmaceutical companies a monopoly over their intellectual creations even at the expense of public health. Pharmaceutical companies have been exploiting this monopoly through exorbitant prices and aggressive marketing. Under the current law, there is no remedy to these abuses,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

“At least where public health is concerned, these flaws in the TRIPS Agreement were corrected through the Doha Declaration. The Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health in 2001 was actually a triumph of national sovereignty over multinational companies over globalization, and not the other way around. The declaration affirmed the powers of States to craft national laws to protect public health, thus including certain flexibilities under the TRIPS Agreement,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

The cheaper medicines bill makes use of these flexibilities to revise IPC and prevent pharmaceutical companies from abusing the patents regime. “One crucial amendment is the stricter definition of patentability, which essentially blocks pharmaceutical companies from extending their patents for frivolous reasons, an abusive practice that prevents competition and the introduction of cheaper versions of a particular drug,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

She challenged Rep. Garcia and other proponents of these killer amendments to support the IPC amendments and help expedite the process. “The whole bill would be useless without the IPC amendments. He repeatedly said that he is in favor of cheaper medicines, so we challenge him to support the bill,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

She also urged the House majority to commit to the passage of the bill. “They promised a year ago that the bill would be passed. We hope they would commit to this new promise. They should deliver a quorum if they really want this bill to be enacted,” Rep. Hontiveros said.

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