Philippines: Expensive Medicines

A post in Tim’s El Salvador Blog mentions a study which identified El Salvador as the country with the highest priced medicines in the world. The Philippines ranks second. Tim explains further:

“In India, it would take 1.5 days, in the Sudan and Philippines between 5 and 6 days, but in El Salvador it would take a full nine days of wages to purchase the necessary medicines.”

Why are medicines expensive in a poor country like the Philippines? Han’s Blog also ponders this question:

“Everyday here in the Philippines, thousands of people die not because they are incurable, but because they cannot afford the medicine for their illnesses. Despite the same medicine being cheaper in our neighboring countries, prices are still protected here for the benefit of select few Big Foreign Pharmaceutical Companies.”

Philippine Pharmaceautical Advocacy uploads the article of Neal Cruz discussing how big companies are dictating the high prices of medicines:

“The Intellectual Property Code allows pharmaceutical companies exclusive rights to manufacture and sell products they have developed. The multinationals have taken advantage of the law by pricing their medicines for as much as the market can bear. They can price their products at any level because there is no competition. Any medicine importer, including the government, can be sued by the multinationals that do not like imported drugs to compete with their products.”

The Warrior Lawyer writes about the suit filed by Pfizer against the Philippine government for testing and starting the registration process for a generic version of Norvasc manufactured in India.

“The leading cause of mortality from illness in the Philippines is heart disease, accounting for approximately 72,000 deaths annually. Norvase is, without question, a very effective drug for hypertension. Pfizer sells a 10 mg. dose of Norvase for $1.50 (Pesos: 75.00) in the Philippines as against only $.18 in India. Norvase costs 700 percent more in the Philippines than elsewhere. Pfizer has not even bothered to explain the enormous price difference between what it sells in the Philippines and the very same product in other countries. It’s no wonder then that the government is eager, even desperate, to import the drug. But Pfizer is not about to let this happen”

Many members of the online forum Tsikot are aghast over the “highway robbery” committed by big drug firms against Filipinos. echoes this sentiment:

“The Philippines is in the stranglehold of a cartel, or oligopoly, of foreign firms more so than the oil cartel and the cement cartel. We should think about this not only on Independence Day but every day that we have not broken this stranglehold. Filipinos are dying at an alarming rate not because there are no doctors and medicines. The medicines are there but Filipinos cannot afford them. We have local companies that can produce the equivalent of the high-priced drugs produced by the multinationals but they cannot do this because of the patent rights of the latter.”

The issue of costly medicines has been recognized by the government and steps have been taken to reduce drug prices. Lawmakers failed to pass the Cheaper Medicines Bill during the 13th Congress but the good news is that this very important bill has been certified as urgent in the 14th Congress today. In fact, Kiloskongreso reports that the first bill filed in the House of Representatives last July was HB-00001 entitled Cheaper Medicines Act of 2007.

Sassy Lawyer’s Journal notes that the discrepancy of proposals of the two houses of Congress is the central issue on the failure of Congress to pass a law on cheaper medicines.

Senator Mar Roxas, a leading advocate for quality and affordable medicines, explains his bill:

“The bill seeks to amend the Intellectual Property Code in order 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 substitute bill also reiterates the President's power, patterned after the Price Act, to impose drug price ceilings in times of calamity, public health emergencies, illegal price manipulation and other instances of unreasonable drug price hikes.”

Roxas also has a video message in You Tube discussing the merits of his legislative proposal.

Haydee Raby writes that the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines is supporting the Cheaper Medicines Bill in the 14th Congress since it “balances the health interest of the Filipinos on one hand and the rights of patent owners on the other hand.” But the same blogger also warns that giant pharmaceutical companies are ready to spend P1 billion to prevent both chambers of Congress from passing a bill aimed at lowering the prices of medicines in the country.

Minagee decries the aggressive lobbying efforts of drug companies to block the passage of the Cheaper Medicines Bill which she referred to as “a matter of life and death for a large number of Filipinos and should be treated with the utmost seriousness and speed.”

Cut the Cost, Cut the Pain Network blames the infighting of lawmakers on why medicines remain expensive:

“Instead of owing up to their faults the congressmen are now busy throwing the blame at each other. If this is a sneak preview of the manner in which the members of the 14th Congress will conduct their affairs, then in the final analysis, it is the people who will once again suffer from the selfish interest and endless politicking of the members of the House.”

Medically Inclined is also frustrated with the conduct of Congress:

“It's really amazing that some of our “officials” are more interested in tackling controversial deals than try to see what they can do about these needs for more public hospitals, cheaper medicines, and more medical facilities. Actions are needed, not just “all talk”. The reality is here, but what are our elected officials going to do about it?”

The AnitoKid Chronikos comments too:

“The Cheaper Medicines Bill, remains pending in Congress. Why? I have two words for you: Graft and Corruption. Rumor has it, and this rumor is a very persistent one, that several big pharma companies and associations are spending a fortune – a king's ransom – to derail the passage of the bill and are aligning themselves with some prospective candidates in the 2010 elections to accomplish their evil intentions!”

Rational Choice blogs about the views of politicians on importing cheaper medicines. Ducky Paredes on how Congress can harmonize different proposals in reducing drug prices.

While Congress is mired in debates, Info Davao happily reports that the government-owned corporation, Philippine International Trading Corporation, has recently signed an agreement with State Trading Corp. of India Ltd. for trade cooperation and drug sourcing in order to take advantage of the cheaper priced India made medicines.

Related post: Milk wars in the Philippines

1 comment

  • sonny`

    if anyone watching “60 minutes”, you’ll understand why some of them politicians are voting against that bill. the program “60 minutes” have shown a segment regarding the same problem, but here in the united states. why some of the people in congress also voted against the same bill. 60 minutes really try their best to be neutral, but they also show some reason why they voted against that same bill. well i know this comment doesn’t mean anything, but maybe some of you guys could do some research about that segment 60 minutes have shown here. then why not try to show that in the news for about a week or so. well by then i’m sure they will feel a little quilt and who knows might also put some second thoughts to some of them who’ll go against it. well i hope this will help and hope we won’t be late on doing this. so good luck guys.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Stay up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details. Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site