The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) on Sunday said it will establish a network of outlets to help resell high quality, but low-priced medicines to marginal families, particularly those dependent on fixed-wage earners.
"We are just waiting for the implementing guidelines of the new law. Once they are finalized, we will definitely come in and give more meaning to the law by getting involved in the retail distribution of imported, affordable medicines," said Ernesto Herrera, TUCP secretary general.
Herrera was referring to the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Law of 2008, or Republic Act 9502.
"We've already had preliminary discussions with Senator Mar Roxas on the matter. He has promised to help us find ways to make vital medicines more accessible to workers," Herrera said in a statement.
Roxas is principal author of RA 9502 and chairman of the Senate committee on trade and commerce.
Herrera said the labor center may get its supply of medicines from the state-run Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), just like the Botika ng Bayan outlets, or from other accredited importers.
"We may enlist the help of member-labor federations, local unions or even a number of partners from the private sector, if necessary," Herrera added.
"Affordable medicines have become an absolute necessity, especially now that workers and other consumers have to cope with soaring food and other commodity prices," Herrera pointed out.
Herrera made the statement shortly after the Drug Store Association of the Philippines (DSAP) expressed concern over a provision in RA 9502 that requires all pharmacies to carry certain medicines imported by the government via the PITC.
The DSAP stated its concern during a recent public hearing conducted by the Department of Health (DOH) to solicit the inputs of consumers, the pharmaceutical industry and medical groups before the IRR of RA 9502 is drawn up. The DOH held its second public hearing on the IRR on Sept. 5 in Angeles City.
The DOH has a Nov. 4 deadline to release the IRR of the new law, which seeks to provide Filipinos greater access to inexpensive drugs by reinforcing the PITC's parallel importation scheme, and by allowing any entity to import patented medicines sold cheaper in other countries.
The new law relaxes existing patent rules by declaring that parallel importation does not violate trademarks, as long as the medicines brought in are determined to be genuine counterparts produced in other countries.
Herrera lamented that health protection in the country remains grossly inadequate, with only one of every three citizens covered by medical insurance. He said the government's insufficient financial resources have hampered universal health insurance coverage.
As a result, Herrera said Filipinos have to take out of their own pockets more than 40 percent of all health-related spending, including the purchase of high-priced medicines.
MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / September 7, 2008)