National Vaccine Program pushed; Bong Go urges DOH to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of medicines amid COVID-19 crisis
As Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography and an advocate of universal healthcare access for all Filipinos, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go is calling on the Department of Health and other concerned agencies to ensure the ‘availability, accessibility and affordability’ of medicines needed by Filipinos, especially during this ongoing health crisis caused by COVID-19.
“Hindi tayo dapat pumayag na pagsamantalahan ng iilan ang sitwasyon kung saan ang mga mahihirap ay namamatay nalang dahil hindi makabili ng gamot. Dapat pantay-pantay at hindi lang ang mga may kaya sa buhay ang makakabili ng mga gamot na kailangan upang gumaling,” Go firmly said in a statement issued over the weekend.
Go noted several reports of alleged overcharging of medicines in hospitals. He urged concerned Filipinos to report such abuses and called on DOH to investigate the matter immediately.
“May mga nababalitang ‘overcharging’ ng mga gamot sa mga ospital na isinasama nalang sa total bill ng mga pasyente. Walang choice ang pasyente kundi bayaran ito upang magamot at makauwi,” Go narrated.
“Nabalitaan ko rin na mayroong iilang mga gamot na mahirap hanapin at hindi nabebenta o napapamahagi sa mga nangangailangan nito,” he added.
“Nakakalungkot ito dahil sa oras na dapat magdamayan at magmalasakit tayo sa isa’t isa, merong mga tao na pinipiling pagsamantalahan pa ang kapwa nilang Pilipino,” Go stressed further.
Go also asked for a review to be conducted on the list for the Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP) on certain drugs and medicines, pursuant to Executive Order 104, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last February 17, and in accordance with the Cheaper Medicines Act of 2008.
By expanding the list included in the MDRP scheme with the possible inclusion of other drugs and medicines that may help in treating COVID-19 patients and other related or prevalent illnesses, Go said that the government can assure Filipinos that will not be subjected to abusive business practices that take advantage of their vulnerabilities during this national health emergency.
“As I have said many times before, healthcare is a right, not a commodity. We must prioritize the general welfare of our people over the business profits of a few. Unahin natin palagi ang interes, kapakanan at buhay ng mga ordinaryong Pilipino,” Go said.
The Senator explained that EO 104 was issued prior to the declaration of a public health emergency, hence medicines relative to the treatment of COVID-19 and related conditions may not have been contemplated then, but should be considered now.
Meanwhile, Go asserts the need to prepare a National Vaccine Program so that when the COVID-19 vaccine is available in the market, it must also be made accessible to the general public. He urges the health department to formulate a national plan for the systematic provision of the COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of the possibility that supply will most likely be limited once it is available.
“Kapag dumating ang panahon na mayroon nang vaccine at gamot laban sa COVID-19, dapat handa tayo na mabigyan ang lahat ng Pilipinong nangangailangan nito, mahirap man o mayaman,” he continued.
Go forewarns that difficult decisions will have to be made once a vaccine is available. Hence, he stressed the need to already plan and anticipate possible scenarios in order to ensure that the vaccine can be accessible to those who need it the most.
“Huwag sana pabayaan ang mga mahihirap. Paghandaan na natin ngayon palang. Magtabi na tayo ng budget para masigurong kakayanin ng gobyerno na matulungan ang mga mahihirap. Magkaroon po tayo ng plano kung saan dapat pantay-pantay at hindi lang ang mga may kaya sa buhay ang makakakuha,” he urged.
In order to prepare for the implementation of a National Vaccine Program, Go is proposing the inclusion of the budget for COVID-19 vaccine procurement in the 2021 national budget. On July 10, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced it initiated coordination with various international partners in 36 countries in order to secure access to viable COVID-19 vaccines.
Go is likewise calling for additional budget to enable the Department of Science and Technology to continue its research on vaccine production. The Philippines is set to participate in five clinical trials with international vaccine developers.
Meanwhile, to bolster the country’s first line of defense against diseases commonly afflicting young children, Go filed Senate Bill No. 398 last July of last year which aims to expand the existing mandatory basic immunization program. The proposed measure will allow the Health Secretary, upon the recommendation of the Formulary Executive Council and National Immunization Committee, to determine the inclusion of new vaccines into the public schedule.