Mar holds hearing on lower-drug-price bill, lauds launch of coalition supporting the measure

SENATOR Mar Roxas will join today in the launching of the AGAP coalition seeking to influence policy changes and measures that will bring prices of medicines down.

The senator would be one of the panelists at the launching of the AGAP coalition at the Nurses Home Auditorium of the Philippine General Hospital. He will join Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan, chairman of the Philippine International Trading Corporation, and Ed Tolentino and Jim Nibungco, president and vice president, respectively of the Stroke Survivors Society of the Philippines. The launch theme is “Patent Maladies, Public Remedies: The State of the Nation’s Health.”

“I am happy to witness the birth of a broad-based coalition that supports my standing advocacy to make quality and affordable medicines accessible to our people,” Roxas said in a press statement on the launching his office issued yesterday.

“With public support snowballing for this advocacy, there is more reason for us to continue working so that all Filipinos could immediately exercise their right to health,” he added.

The AGAP, or “Ayos na Gamot sa Abot Kayang Presyo” was organized by the Fair Trade Alliance headed by former senator Wigberto E. Tañada, who is FTA’s lead convenor, and composed of organizations and individuals working for the common goal of lowering the prices of and broadening people’s access to medicines.

Since its founding, the AGAP has enlisted the support of the Third World Network, Citizen’s Alliance for Consumer Power, Association of Barangay Health Workers, Union Network International, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Philippine Ecumenical Action for Community Empowerment (PEACE) Foundation, Philippine International Trading Corporation, headed by Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan, Raul Concepcion of the Consumer and Oil Price Watch, Undersecretary Alex Padilla of the Department of Health, Vice President Eduardo Banzon of PhilHealth, Atty. Elpidio Peria, associate of the Third World Network in the Philippines, and Dr. Talens of UP-PGH.

After the launching, Roxas, together with Sen. Pia Cayetano, will then preside over the public hearing of the Senate committees on trade and commerce, and, health and demography, which they respectively chair, on the consumer aspects of Senate Bill No. 2139, Roxas’ proposed measure that seeks to ensure the availability of quality, lower-priced medicines for all.

Roxas, as former trade and industry secretary, was the one who jumpstarted the campaign for lower drug prices through his parallel importation and “Presyong Tama” programs. Drug purchases made under the “Presyong Tama” program through the “Botika ng Bayan” resulted in individual savings of 20 to 70 percent off the prices of branded medicines sold in major drugstores. PITC’s Sec. Pagdanganan now competently leads this program.

The Philippines has the highest cost of medicines in Asia, second only to Japan, and the country has a per capita health spending of only P1,662 as of 2003. And although half of the country’s over 80 million population has no access to essential drugs or medicines, Roxas said Philippine drug spending averaged US$1.1 billion from 1997 to 2001, the highest in the ASEAN.

“We have to make the common cause to lower the prices of medicines in our country and make them accessible to all if we are to abide by the Constitutional mandate to make protection of public health of primordial importance,” Roxas explained.

“Savings in health care costs means more money for other basic needs of every Filipino family like food, clothing and education,” he concluded.

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