Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Children’s Medicines

By Michael Tan
Philippinde Daily Inquirer, Pinoy Kasi column
July 25, 2007

View full article here...

The first bill filed in the new Congress was the proposed Cheap Medicines Act. More accurately, the bill was re-filed since it had been proposed in the last Congress but didn’t make it as a law. The bill went through rough sailing, facing tough opposition from multinational drug companies.

Among those lobbying heavily for passage of the bill are advocacy organizations working with the elderly. They’ve rightly pointed out that the country’s expensive medicines have been a terrible burden especially for the elderly, and the families that have to foot their medical bills. Because the elderly are more vulnerable to chronic ailments, they have much greater dependency on medicines, many of which have to be taken on a daily basis. Even with the 20-percent discount offered to senior citizens, the monthly bills for medicines easily run into the thousands, wiping out their savings. The elderly are literally held hostage by the drug industry with a grim message: Pay up, or suffer.

How costly is costly?

But sometimes we forget that there’s another large segment of the population that’s also held for ransom: the children. About 100,000 Filipino children die each year, many from diseases that are preventable and curable.

Let’s tackle the preventable deaths first. Vaccines play a key role in preventing many of these deaths. Fortunately, the government does provide free BCG (for tuberculosis), DPT (diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough and tetanus), OPV (oral polio vaccine) and hepatitis B vaccines. Additional vaccines for flu, chickenpox, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) have to be paid for with private physicians, and these can run into several thousand pesos. As far as I know, they’re not reimbursable with PhilHealth or with private health maintenance organizations.

There are many other diseases that are not preventable through vaccines. The leading cause of illness and death among children are acute respiratory infections. Children are also especially at risk for gastrointestinal infections that can cause life-threatening diarrheas.