Clearing a Constipated Medicine Distribution System

Better Days

Sen. Sonny Angara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.

Email:| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

In February 2019, in another win for social justice, President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act. The law—which we were fortunate to have co-authored and co-sponsored in the Senate with our friends Senators JV Ejercito (the principal champion of this measure) and Ralph Recto, with Quezon Representative Helen Tan as sponsor in the House—not only ensured universal coverage for all Filipinos but also expanded the benefits and health services available to them as well. Among the substantial reforms under the UHC law would be free basic check-ups and laboratory tests—which will definitely bring a sigh of relief to many as studies show that 6 out of 10 Filipinos pass on without seeing a doctor.

With the increase and expansion of PhilHealth coverage, the funding requirement to fully implement the UHC for the first year alone was estimated to be a whopping PhP 257 billion. In fact, immediately after the May 2019 elections, the Senate rolled up its sleeves to pass the law increasing the tobacco excise tax and imposing new taxes on heated tobacco products (HTP) and vapor products to augment the funding needed for the UHC Law’s implementation.

That is why the recent Commission on Audit (COA) report detailing how the Department of Health (DOH) has accumulated drugs and medicines amounting to more than PhP 18 billion in its warehouses – with a portion nearing their expiry date – is utterly disheartening. What’s worse is that the same COA report found out that more than PhP 30 million worth of drugs and medicines were already expired—an unconscionable waste of taxpayer’s money.

The COA report hits close to home for many, but most especially for those who are struggling with purchasing medicines. Many Filipinos are said to undermedicated because they could not afford the required dosage. Such stories are not new—but that only makes the news of any wastage of drugs and medicines a veritable slap in the face of millions of Filipinos

One of the reasons COA cited that led to the overstock and expiration of drugs and medicines was the DOH’s inefficient procurement planning and non-monitoring of inventories. And while the DOH stated that it’s currently working on the immediate distribution of the drugs and medicines still in their inventory, there is still a need to allay the concerns of many that the department is not being fiscally responsible with the finite resources allocated to them.

This is why we filed Senate Resolution No. 53 calling for an investigation on this matter to determine where the bottlenecks of medicine distribution are and how such an issue should be addressed.

Another cause for alarm is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report published last month which revealed that the Philippines—among Southeast Asian countries—has the highest incidence of falsified medicines. As stated in the report, of the total number of incidents of counterfeiting and illegal distribution of pharmaceutical products from 2013 to 2017, the country sits on top, followed by Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Simply put, Filipinos are fighting a war for much-needed medicines on many fronts: 1) in terms of high and rising costs; and 2) the seeming surge of counterfeit pharmaceutical products that could have low potency, at best or highly risky at worst. This only underscores why the DOH cannot afford to be inefficient with its inventory—and why such wastage should not be tolerated.

With the upcoming implementation of the UHC Act, the department needs to institute deep reforms, ramp up all its efforts to provide healthcare services to every Filipino, and clear up any blockages in our apparently “constipated” medicine distribution system. This perennial problem with undistributed expired drugs will certainly be a major point of interest in the upcoming Senate hearings on the proposed 2020 national budget of the agency.

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