Country Report: The Philippines

Nov 01, 2010

"Bayanihan" (Working Together), artist Carlos "Botong" Francisco; commissioned by Unilab. Bayanihan is a Filipino word that refers to the spirit of communal unity and cooperation.
Despite a population of 95 million and a growing economy, the Philippine pharmaceutical industry has been largely overlooked in the past—but things are about to change. The industry has been radically reshaped in the last year, following the approval of the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act, that includes the Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP) scheme. After years without any regulation, the MDRP called for a 50% price reduction on 21 molecules, and introduced some systematization to drug pricing in the country.

Reiner Gloor, Executive Director, Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP)
The law is meant to increase access to medicines for the poor, in a country where the price of pharmaceuticals is among the highest in Asia and 60% of the population has no access even to basic drugs. So far, the effects of the Cheaper Medicines Law—as it is informally called—have been negative on the pharmaceutical industry. Reiner Gloor, president and executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of Philippines (PHAP), points out that "there have been no real volume increases, and particularly the molecules which have been touched, have been flat. It is still too early to say if it has really expanded the market, but it has taken [even by recognition of Department of Health (DOH)] PHP 12 billion (approximately US$270 million) out of the pharmaceutical market."

Esperanza I. Cabral, M.D., Former Philippines Secretary of Health
Critics claim that in addition to negatively affecting the pharma industry, the law has not truly increased access to medicines for the poor. But former secretary of health Esperanza Cabral, who was a promoter of the voluntary price reductions adopted by the industry, believes that "the industry may be right that the very poor are still not able to afford the medicines they need. However, there are many people who were struggling before—a group in between rich and poor—who could only afford some, but not all, of their medicines before the MDRP. These people have benefited from the MDRP because now they can afford the medicines they are prescribed."

The MDRP is the first step in increasing access to medicines. The next step is increasing social support. Currently, PhilHealth, the national insurance, covers only 38% of the population. The recently elected Aquino government, which took office on July 1, has set universal healthcare coverage by 2013 as one of its primary objectives. If it becomes reality, universal healthcare will further change the competitive landscape in the Philippine pharmaceutical industry.

Edward Isaac, President, Philippine Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (PCPI)
The industry will also be reshaped by the prospective harmonisation on pharmaceutical regulations that is currently being discussed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The harmonisation will provide opportunities for local Philippine companies to expand beyond national borders; it will also facilitate entry into the Philippine region for foreign pharmaceutical companies. Within the Philippines, of course, this legislation will increase competition as more products flow in. According to Edward Isaac, president of the Philippine Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (PCPI)—the voice of the Philippine companies—the harmonisation will, at the beginning, "be a threat." Yet he continues, "There will be a learning curve for us, but in the long run it will be good. We believe in competition, so we are getting ready for that."

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