Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Consumers’ Action for Empowerment Launched

February 20 marked the successful launching of Consumers’ Action for Empowerment at Sulo Hotel with thirty-four organizations, five community health associations, and at least four groups from media as attendees.

Shortened for Consumers’ Action, this group stresses the need to unite and assert for the people’s right on access to safe, affordable, quality, and effective medicines. The group believes that it is high time for the creation of a consumers’ group to be participated by community leaders, people’s organizations, hospital workers, advocates, religious institutions, teachers, women’s groups, and consumers in light of the passage of Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008 (RA 9502).

Dr. Eleanor A. Jara, member of Consumer’s Action Secretariat and Executive Director of CHD, remains “not very optimistic” and reckons in a statement the inherent flaws of RA 9502:

The law failed to dismantle foreign control over the drug industry which is one of the reasons why millions are unable to buy life-saving essential meds because of exorbitant prices. Multinational companies dictate high prices through the World Trade Organization – Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (WTO-TRIPS).

There is no true local drug industry in the Philippines. Local manufacturers can only produce 200 kinds of essential medicines despite the fact that 80 % of the more than 17,000 registered drugs are already off-patent. Instead of developing the local drug industry, the government encourages parallel importation which promotes the policy of dependence and which can eventually kill the local drug manufacturers.

Despite the clamour and strong recommendation of the health sector representatives and people’s organizations, the law omitted the creation of a Drug Price Regulatory Board which could have been ensured the democratic representation of consumers and other stakeholders.

‘Strengthening’ BFAD by leaving it to generate its own income with the goal of cutting it off from the national budget is tantamount to government reneging on its obligation and makes BFAD more vulnerable to private interests and influences.

The said group, which is spearheaded by Council for Health and Development (CHD), Health Action Information Network (HAIN), Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), Health Students’ Action (HSA), Community Medicine Foundation (COMMEDF), Kilos Bayan Para sa Kalusugan, and MEDHERBAL PHARMACY, shall act as a watchdog of consumers on accessibility of safe and essential medicines including drug price monitoring on a nationwide scale and networking with other concerned groups and individuals.

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