BOO CHANCO: PURISIMA JUNKS ATE GLO'S CHEAP DRUGS PROGRAM
MANILA, July 12, 2004 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - In her recent interview with Korina Sanchez, Ate Glo said she is comfortable with most of her current Cabinet members. She said, keeping most of them saves her the trouble of having to convince them about her program. They will just continue carrying out her programs without any downtime to familiarize or internalize the validity of the programs.
Well, I have news for her. She has to convince Trade and Industry Secretary Cesar Purisima about one of her key programs. Purisima has quietly junked her program to make prescription drugs affordable to the poor. While Mar Roxas was the Trade Secretary, Ate Glo had an enthusiastic advocate of the program which involves importing life saving antibiotics and other drugs in a bid to make them affordable to poor people. Mar even made the program a key accomplishment in his very successful campaign for a Senate seat.
I was informed late last week that Secretary Purisima instructed the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) to drop the program after multinational drug companies told him that drug imports from India might be dangerous. That is ridiculous. Even if we take that comment on face value, it is the concern of the Bureau of Food and Drugs to determine the safety and efficacy of PITCís drug imports before being sent to hospitals.
It is not surprising the Trade Chief bought the line of the local multinational drug companies since most of them were his former clients at SGV. He forgot he is no longer obligated to make them happy. This gives the impression he has not completely severed his ties with his former employer.
What bothers me however is how easy it was for Purisima to junk a major program of the President just because his former (?) clients said so. I think Purisima is a basically decent person and he may not have noticed that he has wandered in a conflict of interest situation here. He reportedly instructed PITC to stop importation and deal with the local multinationals instead.
It is a well known fact that these drug companies have been screwing the Philippine consumers for decades. That was why Ate Glo and Mar Roxas embarked on this program. Prices of life-saving drugs have always been higher here than in most parts of our region, even for brands sold by the same company in different markets.
Thatís whatís happening in the US too, and thatís why there is now a thriving business involving the sale of prescription drugs by Canadian drugstores to American patients. The drug industry is a $400 billion behemoth that is among the most profitable industries on earth.
The drug companies keep saying their high cost is necessary to support research on new drugs. Thatís true but thatís not the whole story. The high cost of drugs is also because of the extravagant and unethical marketing practices of the drug companies. A recent article at The New York Times gave a dramatic report of how the drug industry is now being made to account for its questionable and costly marketing practices that prostitute doctors.
The Times report starts with the story of a doctor who received a check for $10,000, which arrived in the mail unsolicited. It came from the drug maker Schering-Plough. It was made out to the doctor personally in exchange for an attached "consulting" agreement that required nothing other than his commitment to prescribe the companyís medicines.
The drug company under investigation is said to "pay doctors large sums to prescribe its drug for hepatitis C and to take part in company-sponsored clinical trials that were little more than thinly disguised marketing efforts that required little effort on the doctorsí part. Doctors who demonstrated disloyalty by testing other companyís drugs, or even talking favorably about them, risked being barred from the Schering-Plough money stream."
The Times reports federal prosecutors are investigating the payoffs, some of them said to be for six-figure sums, as part of a broad government crackdown on the drug industryís marketing tactics. At the heart of the various investigations into drug industry marketing, The Times reports, is the question of whether drug companies are persuading doctors Ė often through payoffs Ė to prescribe drugs that patients do not need or should not use or for which there may be cheaper alternatives. Thatís scary.
If I were Purisima, I would re-think this bias against a worthy government program to favor past clients in the drug industry. Otherwise, we should ask Ate Glo if she has given up on her program too. The Commission on Appointments should also probe Purisimaís past SGV ties for potential conflict of interest situations.
And Sen. Mar Roxas should investigate what happened to his flagship anti-poverty program that his successor scuttled. I am sure Mar is not unfamiliar with the drug industryís pressure tactics. A congressional inquiry on marketing practices of local drug multinationals would likely reveal the same scandalous marketing practices here, as in the United States. They should call one.
Poor Noli Boy
I think my friend Vice President Noli de Castro is a victim of a set-up. Of course Dinky Soliman knew Noli wanted to be DSWD Secretary when he joined the K4 ticket. Everyone did. All the drama feigning surprise and crying betrayal are meant more to push Noli to the wall, with the help of civil society, so he would give up DSWD.
In the process, poor Noli is being subjected to insults. His qualification for the job is being questioned by civil society types who point out that Dinky is a licensed social worker who has not only passed but topped the board exams for social workers. Noli, the Vice President of the Republic, is being painted as unqualified for the second-tier cabinet position.
I know Noli and his capabilities because I worked with him when I was head of ABS-CBNís news operations. He is competent more than most people would give him credit for. He is not just a newsreader. He is an experienced journalist who can also manage his own operations.
If I were Noli, maybe I would just back out and let Dinky and her vicious civil society cohorts, CODE-NGO and all, have their social welfare post. Noli should ask for the Defense portfolio. Knowing Noli, I am confident he would make a better DND chief than any retired general. He would be able to establish instant rapport with the troops and mid-level officer corps better than a Peemayer attached to an internal military clique. Best of all, Noli is a civilian, thereby re-asserting civilian supremacy over the military.
Noliís mistake was to underestimate his own capability by just asking for the DSWD position. He should have gone higher, much higher by asking for DND. That would also prepare him better to be President one day. Of course, if only for that, Ate Glo wouldnít dare give him the DND portfolio. She feels insecure enough as it is. Good News
The appointment of Arthur Yap to replace Cito Lorenzo at Agriculture is good news. It means Ate Glo resisted extreme pressure from Senate President Frank Drilon to have his brother appointed instead. Yap is expected to continue the more systematic approach to improving productivity in rice and corn cultivation that was started by Cito.
The other good news I came across is the report that Ate Glo is not going to appoint retired police officers to replace Tong Payumo at Subic as earlier speculated. She is looking for someone like Del Lazaro or Kaiku Licuanan for the job of transforming Clark and Subic into a major logistical center in the region. Unfortunately, Del declined the Presidentís offer.
What To Do
A patient walks in just as the doctor was folding his copy of the Wall Street Journal.
Patient: Doctor, what should I do if my temperature goes up a point or more?
Boo Chancoís e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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