Friday, August 15, 2008

Access to Low Cost Medicines Workshop

It was unity and diversity both at work in the MeTA-sponsored civil society skills-building workshop on improving access to low cost medicine. The workshop was held at the Meralco Management Leadership and Development Center (MMLDC) in Antipolo City last June 3 to 10, 2008. Twenty-three representatives from Peru, Kyrgyztan, Jordan and the Philippines broke down cultural barriers and country differences as they worked at identifying strategies toward the common goal of improving access to low cost quality medicines for their respective citizens.

This workshop actually dovetailed a similar activity held in Uganda, February of this year that had similar objectives, basically, to equip civil society organizations with knowledge and skills to promote greater transparency, accountability and efficiency on the issue of access to medicines in the pilot countries that included the Philippines.

Jordan with a sparse population of six million and basically ran by a monarchy has a High Health Council headed by the Prime Minister that ensures access to medicines as part of the general health services. Kyrgyztan is another country with a small population of roughly five million that became sovereign as a result of the Soviet Union break-up in 1991. The latter, with relatively new democracy has a young Civil Society that is still getting its act together and has not much experience yet on political exercises like networking, organizing and lobbying. The five-women delegation, three with medical background and two consumer advocates, seem to show a middle-class face of civil society in their country with limited engagement of the sectors at the lower rung. They were however, intent on learning from the other MeTA country representatives, techniques and methods on advocacy and organizing.

The Peru representation of three, on the other hand, asserts that NGOs are very much alive in their country and one important concern is access of low cost, quality medicines for women of reproductive age. The Philippines, as the host country, had the biggest number of delegates representing the multi-sector stakeholders in the issue of low-cost, quality medicines. It was acknowledged indeed, that we have a very rich experience as far as advocacy and political engagement are concerned, especially, in grassroots organizing which is a major and essential component of our NGO work.

The workshop is part of a two-year programme by the MeTA or Medicines Transparency Alliance in promoting a “multi-stakeholder approach towards increasing transparency around the regulation, selection, procurement, sale, distribution and use of medicines in developing countries, thereby strengthening governance, encouraging responsible business practices and ultimately improving access to medicines, especially for the poor.

Serving as Secretariat for the 10-day activity was HAIN, with resource persons and observers representing local agencies like the Philippine Health Insurance, Bureau of Food and Drugs, Zuellig Foundation, Transparency International and international organizations like Health Action International, WHO, DFID and OxFam. Andrew Chetley and Wilbert Bannenberg of MeTA International served as general workshop directors.

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