Road to self-sufficiency
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2019 - 12:00am

It appears that even without a director, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still able to keep a vigilant eye on the products available in the Philippine market. Just recently, the agency alerted the public and stopped the sale of synthetic acid-based vinegar, glutathione shots, and fake medicine being sold online. Is everything therefore clear on the horizon? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

We should remember that the purpose and mandate of the FDA goes far beyond identifying and banning harmful products from the market. Their primary responsibility is to pave the way for products that are cheaper, more effective, and accessible to the Filipino people.

This is what the local pharmaceutical industry has been trying to do among themselves. Unfortunately, excessively strict regulations and bureaucratic red tape – ironically, coming for the FDA itself – has proven to be a recurring hindrance. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that these impediments have caused a number of factories to close shop.

Consider this: 15 years ago, there were more than 100  manufacturers operating locally. At present, the number of local companies have dwindled to just 48 factories, which  are responsible for making only 36 percent of pharmaceuticals being sold. The local industry is not getting stronger, and it is not even stagnant. It is weakening.

Besides the obvious economic impact of waning competitiveness, how else does a dampened pharmaceutical industry affect the average Filipino? Simply put, a weak, import-reliant pharmaceutical industry leads to expensive and inefficient healthcare. Imported medicines naturally have higher costs, making them significantly more expensive when they finally reach the market.

Despite these alarming macro and micro implications of a poorly regulated industry, my friends at the Philippine Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry Inc. (PCPI) remain cautiously optimistic. They recently revealed their roadmap to a strengthened pharmaceutical sector and inaugurated a new board of trustees to lead them.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to appoint a new director, there’s still a chance for the agency to help give the pharmaceutical sector a much-needed boost. It just needs a meticulous director willing to support the PCPI’s roadmap. While some might think that the association of companies is asking for more leniency from government, the truth is quite the opposite.

In order to enhance and streamline the regulatory processes, the association wants to work hand in hand with the FDA and increase government involvement in working with the private sector. At the same time, the PCPI wants to help the FDA explore replicating the models of neighboring countries with strong pharmaceutical industries.

These goals might seem counterintuitive, considering that the hardships were caused by harsh government regulation in the first place. But like any other sector, cooperation with the government is key to its success. I was happy to learn from  PCPI’s new president, Dr. Lloyd Balajadia, that the organization is hoping for an accommodating FDA director to turn the situation around.

“The best way to address the present concerns with the FDA is through improved dialogue among all stakeholders, competent manpower and leadership within the agency,” Dr. Balajadia said. “A continuous dialogue is necessary to establish well-thought and sensible regulations to resolve the challenges of today and the future,” he further noted.

Ultimately, Dr. Balajadia believes that for the sake of public welfare, “the emphasis on collaboration with the FDA is essential for the growth of the food and drug industries. The next FDA Director can be assured of PCPI’s collaboration, support and cooperation to advance a self-sufficient and globally competitive Philippines.”

In the name of quality healthcare and self-sufficiency, I hope the next FDA director consults with the PCPI. After all, what does the agency have to lose by working with them?

* * *

My most sincere condolences to two good friends who have lost their sons recently. Ethel Soliven Timbol’s son Peter has passed away. Peter was one of Ethel’s four children. Ethel is a former Lifestyle editor of the Manila Bulletin.

Vera Isberto’s son Paolo Antonio followed soon after Peter’s demise. 

We mothers know the gripping sadness that comes with losing a child. Those of us whose sons are still alive feel lonesome, and aching,  for their presence when they live far from us. More so when they are gone forever – and we can no longer touch and hug and kiss them and feel the warmth of their affection.

We take comfort in the message Vera emailed me: “Death is kind and considerate. It is God’s will and we can only be thankful for the moments shared and remembered forever.”



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