Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines, has thrown out a controversial “generics-only” provision which is continuing to delay Congressional approval of the Cheaper Medicines Bill.

She has told the Health Department to remove the provision in the House of Representatives’ version of the bill, HB 2844, which would require doctors to prescribe medicines by their generic names only. No such provision appears in SB 1658, the Senate version, and Senators have has continually refused to accept it during the Congressional reconciliation process needed to get a bicameral version of the bill passed, which began before Christmas.

On March 13, Congress began a five-week recess with the bill’s passage still deadlocked over the generics provision, and Pres Arroyo has now said she is ordering its removal to ensure that both chambers accept it when they return on April 21. “We cannot make the poor and the sick wait much longer,” said the president, who has continually expressed her frustration with the legislation’s slow passage. “We don’t want a masterpiece that will never be played. We want something that may be less than perfect but can be carried out,” she added.

Moreover, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has said he understands that several legislators have proposed a sunshine provision which would defer the generics-only requirement for the next three years. If the bill’s other measures are successful in reducing drug prices during that time, the generics provision might not then prove necessary, he said.

The bill’s long development has been marred by claims of lobbying and interference by multinational drugmakers, the US Trade Representative (USTR) and the World Trade Organisation ((WTO).
Pres Arroyo has also once again urged the Health Department and the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), to fight the medicines industry “cartel” which, she says, is controlling the market with a 70% share. “At least 90% of our medicines now are off-patent, but still 90% of the medicines circulating nationwide are branded and are more expensive that their generic counterparts,” she said. Drug prices in the Philippines are currently the second-highest in Asia, after Japan.

The PITC is a government-owned international agency which Pres Arroyo has designated a key player in her goal of achieving a 50% reduction in the prices of essential drugs by 2010.

Call to improve OTC info
A recent report from Research and Markets forecast that approval of the Cheaper Medicines Bill will create huge new sales for generics and increase the domestic market’s total value by 7% to $3.4 billion in 2012. Generics currently account for just 3% of total medicines sales, with the majority of Filipinos purchasing their medicines over-the-counter.

On its return, the House will also be examining new legislation, the Safe Medication Act of 2008 (HB 3744) proposed by Representative Alfredo Maranon, which would require OTC manufacturers to provide the public with more information about adverse effects and other safety issues associated with their products.