By Macon Araneta
FilAm Star Correspondent

Some 18 multi-national pharmaceutical companies in the Philippines are offering to reduce their medicine prices substantially to help the public cope with rising health care costs.

“We will announce these initiatives as soon as we work out the partnership details with the Department of Health (DoH),” said Teodoro Padilla, executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines.

But Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said the offer to cut the retail prices would bring limited benefits. He said the proposal would not include mark-ups at pharmacies, hospitals and other retailers.

“It will have no effect if they bring down the price on their end but not at the end of the supply chain. That’s useless. Their proposal will have very limited benefits.”

Aside from lowering the price of medicine — by as much as half off a certain kind of cancer drug — the group is also looking for ways to help prevent diseases, Padilla said.

In a meeting with Duque and patient organizations early this week, PHAP said its members are offering to reduce prices for medicines that address major non-communicable diseases, infectious diseases and rare disorders.

“The DoH Secretary is doing his best to look for ways to lower health care costs of Filipino patients. We support the DoH objective. We, in the private sector, are reaching out as a government partner so we may find the best solution to the current health care gaps and for patients and their families to fully benefit,” Padilla said.

At the moment, he said Filipino patients pay about 54 percent of their own health care costs compared to only 12 percent in Thailand, 38 percent in Malaysia, and 37 percent in Indonesia.

The government’s share in medicine expenditure is 91 percent in Thailand, 54 percent in Malaysia and 14 percent in Indonesia but Padilla did not specify how much was the Philippines’ share.

He said the anti-diabetic drug metformin (500mg) sells for only PHP00.56 to PHP19 in government hospitals compared to PHP00.62 to PHP35 in private hospitals, and from PHP1.50 to PHP16.15 in retail outlets.

Losartan (100mg), which is for high blood pressure control, sells for PHP00.86 to PHP36 in government hospitals, PHP2.75 to PHP68 in private hospitals, and PHP8 to PHP34.50 in retail outlets, Padilla added.

Apart from medicine price reductions, PHAP members are offering medicine assistance programs that offer patients holistic and comprehensive assistance from diagnosis, to treatment and monitoring.

Initially for cancer, the program may take the form of free or discounted medicine, support for lab testing and monitoring, patient education, on-line community support and capacity building for health care providers.

Under the proposed partnership, for example, patients with breast cancer may obtain up to 54 percent discount on a cancer drug or free medicines on certain treatment cycles.

Padilla also urged the public to try to buy from government hospitals and pharmacies that have been found to have the lowest prices because they can pool their requirements and procure in volume.

“Government hospitals, not price control, are the solution in helping the public reduce their medicine costs. The issue that needs to be addressed is how to make supplies last and how to make them more available through other outlets,” he said.

Supply is a function of the Health department having the budget, he said, adding that Congress and the executive department still have time to address this issue, as the budget for next year has yet to be passed, the PHAP official said.

If government hospitals and pharmacies could offer more of these cheaper medicines to more people in more areas, the country would be able to somehow catch up with its neighbors in terms of health care participation, Padilla said.

The DoH earlier said it was considering asking President Rodrigo Duterte to sign an executive order to set a price ceiling for 120 drugs.

Duque said the proposal covers medicines for diabetes, hypertension, newborn diseases, cancer and psoriasis.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization hailed the eradication of wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) as a “historic achievement for humanity” that leaves only one strain of the virus in transmission.

All three types of wild polio can cause paralysis and death, but WHO categorizes them separately in terms of eradication because of certain virological differences.

The last confirmed case of WPV3 was recorded in northern Nigeria in 2012.

An independent panel, chaired by WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, concluded that the required criteria have been met to “verify that this strain is truly gone,” the United Nations health agency said in a statement.

WPV2 was declared eradicated in 2015, but WPV1 continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Non-wild forms of polio—known as vaccine-derived polio—remain in transmission in parts of Africa and Asia, including the Philippines where a re-emergence last month nearly two decades after the last case has triggered a mass vaccination campaign.

Vaccine-derived polio is caused by the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.

According to WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunization rates get too low.

“We cannot stop our efforts now. We must eradicate all remaining strains of all polioviruses,” David Salisbury, chairman of the independent Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication, said in a statement.