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Opinion

Philippine Generic Summit 2022

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Today, starting at 9 a.m., I will have the privilege to take part and play host/master of ceremonies of the Philippine Generic Summit 2022 at the Manila Hotel. After two years of multiple quarantines, social distancing and simply trying to avoid being infected with COVID-19, today’s event will be my first, and after reviewing the program, it will certainly be a busy day featuring dozens of public and private sector personalities, health officials and experts, perhaps even the President of the Philippines Bongbong Marcos and Senator Bong Go.

I’m actually writing this advanced column Monday, two days ahead and so far everyone is hopeful the President would grace the occasion because it would be a sign of support and confidence in what the summit organizers hope to achieve. It would also be a great opportunity for the President to meet up with representatives of companies both local and international who are keen on the exponential development of the generics medicines sector. Of course, given the damage caused by Typhoon Karding, the summit might have to take a back seat to the disaster.

Aside from the full house of experts and professionals supporting the generics medicine program in the Philippines, the event will also showcase speakers as well as presentations from various stakeholders who have a connection with or involvement in the promotion of generic medicines.

Times have truly changed but it was not so long ago when the introduction of generics medicine was strongly opposed for a myriad of reasons. For the most part, it was from fear or doubts about the efficacy of generic medicines, made more difficult by our culture of brand loyalty and generational habits. Most people made the sacrifice of paying more just to be safe and sure with the brands they knew and trusted.

Aside from consumer habits, there was also the natural and expected conflict between pharmaceutical companies and public health proponents where, on one hand, pharmaceutical companies saw generics as undermining the investments and business of pharmaceutical companies. On the other hand, the government or health advocates wanted affordable medicines for all through their own means and could not imagine actual cooperation with the pharma industry.

Thank God that in the last 15 or so years many things have been put in place that allowed the co-existence of private and public entities. I remember suggesting the “unthinkable” and the “sacrilegious” to a multinational pharmaceutical chief executive back then, that they “should seriously consider getting into the production of generics medicine because it was inevitable.” I got away with heresy simply because the executive knew me as someone who could read tea leaves, say what’s on my mind and had his best interest at heart.

In fairness to the guy, he did send out the instructions to study the matter that led to what is now Rhea Generics, which sells the very same branded medicines Filipinos patronize. With a little nudge in terms of frontline marketing and advertising, these product lines are now very popular alongside “local” branded generics.

I for one no longer buy branded medicine, instead I buy either the Rhea generics or the Watsons product lines for my cardio maintenance medicines because even my doctors tell me it’s the very same stuff and they are more affordable.

Aside from global pharma companies joining the bandwagon, there is no denying that the Universal Health Care Law, the senior citizen discount and social media have all contributed immensely in making Filipinos more cost conscious as well as educated and aware of the highly improved quality of generics medicines in the country. I have no doubt that in time, the DOH, public health proponents and perhaps manufacturers both local and international will be inclined to expand the product array of generic medicines, especially for treatment or medication for diabetes, cancer and mental health diseases.

Given what has developed, evolved or resulted from guarded cooperation, it would be safe to say that if all the stakeholders put their minds to work out compromises, commitments, support, etc., we can look forward to the next wave of achievements that will benefit generations of patients after us.

If anything, the pharmaceutical companies worldwide have shown during the height of the COVID pandemic their willingness to prioritize cure before profit, while government regulators have also learned that cooperation enhances and speeds up action and response to public health threats.

The rapid development of anti-COVID vaccines was also a stark reminder that public health cannot do without the help of the private sector. The trauma of seeing thousands of people dying daily in every country or part of the globe rendered the mistrust among all petty and pointless.

Perhaps this is one of several goals that today’s Philippine Generic Summit hopes to achieve; to unify all sectors of the health care sector towards more advancement in the production and promotion of generic medicines for the wider population of Filipinos. This is already evident in the guest list and list of presenters for today. Let’s all pray that the seeds and words planted in today’s event will all bear fruit in the very near future.

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Someone just told me that a couple of high-ranking career executives in government have expressed no interest in becoming Cabinet secretaries for a number of reasons. First of all, a career official accepting a Cabinet secretary post would be co-terminus with the president or the appointing power. Someone who has more than six years to go would have to give up a full run.

Becoming a Cabinet secretary will tie you up with so much work and responsibility that is not worth the perceived prestige of the title. If you are unlucky, like many such officials in the past, you would spend the following two years after the administration clearing your name or dealing with court cases, mostly nuisance suits. Why buy the cow when you can buy the milk?

PHILIPPINE GENERIC SUMMIT

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