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India’s medicines

by Francis N. Tolentino

These days, it is truly costly to get sick in the Philippines. Data from the Philippine National Health Accounts (PNHA) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that back in 2013, every Filipino spent P5,260 for health expenses. If we spent that much to keep our families healthy in 2013, we can just imagine the tragic increase in the same figure four years later, when prices of commodities and utilities have all gone up.

This is why the scheduled talks between the Philippines and India, which is expected to include discussions on how more affordable medicines may be made available in the Philippines, is such a welcome development in light of the rising health costs in our country. President Rodrigo Duterte attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-India Special Commemorative Summit and India’s Republic Day celebration last January 24-26, 2018. The said talks have been set sometime in March and aim to establish cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the areas of pharmaceutical trade and investments.

I remember having written an article about the lower manufacturing costs of Indian medicines (and consequently lower selling prices) a few years back. India is, by the way, the largest provider of generic medicine in the world, taking a share of 20% of global exports. I recall having mentioned in that previous article that India had established a National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), a government regulatory body which was tasked to monitor and identify both the prices and shortages of drugs in India. The NPPA also conducts studies on pharmaceutical production, exports and imports, market share of individual companies, and profitability of companies among others. Perhaps a similar body may be established in the Philippines in order to ensure that Filipinos are able to purchase the medicines they need to keep their bodies healthy and disease-free.

Following the Indian model, we need to devote more resources to research and development of cheaper herbal medicines. Several local plants have been discovered to possess therapeutic qualities that reduce the risks of hypertension, diabetes, and renal failure, among other life-threatening illnesses. I also propose to the government to consider the creation of a state-owned national pharmaceutical company which will focus on pharmaceutical research and development as well as the importation of cheaper drugs. While our government exerts all possible efforts to alleviate poverty and uplift the living standards of Filipinos, the potential impacts of cheaper medicines and reduced health costs can surely contribute to the achievement of a healthier Filipino nation.