I got to read yesterday's papers only today (that's one way to describe how out-of-sync with time I am lately) and found this interesting observation by PDI's Neal Cruz:
[PDI, Apr 03, 2006] - WHY ARE MANY FILIPINOS DROPPING DEAD of heart attacks and strokes? (These two ailments are among the top killers in the Philippines.) Here is one reason:
Amlodipine besylate, an important drug used for the treatment of high blood pressure marketed under the name Norvasc, is sold in Pakistan by Pfizer, a multinational company, at the equivalent of P8.74 per 5-mg tablet and P17.09 per 10-mg tablet. In the Philippines, it is sold by the same Pfizer at P44.75 per 5-mg tablet and P74.57 per 10-mg tablet.
The same Norvasc is being sold in Indonesia at the equivalent price of P21 per 5-mg tablet and P37.93 per 10-mg tablet; in Thailand, Norvasc is being sold at the equivalent price of P26.65 and P45.65, respectively.
The same medicine is sold by Pfizer in India under the brand named Amlogard at the equivalent of P5.98 per 5-mg tablet and P8.96 per 10-mg tablet. Norvasc and Amlogard are both made by Pfizer, but Pfizer sells amlodipine besylate in the Philippines at prices 650 percent and 730 percent higher than in India and more than double the price in Indonesia and Thailand.
If your heart attack and stroke do not kill you, then, the drug prices surely will.
'Sounds amusing, but in a country like the Philippines, we have known this to be true for a long time already. Many have died. And yes, many continue to die. If you've grown cynical about the whole thing, you might even comment that, "Well, at least, our population explosion problem is getting remedied."
Neil Cruz says the reason has something to do with the LAW OF PATENTS, which allows a pharma company like Pfizer "a 25-year monopoly over its sale" of a new drug or medicine usually at prices described "for as much as the market can bear," which is nothing but the business-speak of pharma managers saying that only the rich and those with thousands and thousands of pesos can buy their medicines on a regular basis.
P1.2 BILLION PESOS or US$23.5 million- an amazing amount of money for any poor Filipino.
According to Cruz, P1.2 BILLION PESOS also happen to be the yearly amount of sales of Norvasc, in the Philippines, alone.
This is just one simple anti-hypertensive agent he is talking about. I wonder if Cruz knows about the prices of antibiotics, neuroenhancers for stroke patients, and other new medicines protected by this so-called LAW OF PATENTS.
Rare is the case when patients suffer from hypertension alone. The more frequent consultations (at least, in my case, ok?) involve co-morbidities like diabetes, tuberculosis, respiratory infections, and a gamut of other pathologies needing expensive medicines.
The poor die quietly and unnoticed most of the time.
Sure, there are already cheap generic medicines around, but for those drugs like Norvasc, we doctors can't really do much to bring its price down.
To be fair with Pfizer Philippines, it has offered drug discounts --- Norvasc included --- which prescribing doctors like me can extend to patients we think should need this financial aid. Also, the local governments' have their standard 20 percent drug discounts for senior citizens. But reality tells me that these moves aren't enough.
Bigger discounts are needed if we really want the poor, sick people to continue breathing.