“Bawal magkasakit.” People may find this popular multivitamins ad amusing and may even laugh at the tagline that tells you “getting sick is prohibited” – but for most poor Filipinos, this certainly sums up the situation. After all, when you barely earn enough to buy food for your family, you certainly can’t afford to get sick simply because there is no money for medicines. Sure, some can go to the nearest barangay health center for a checkup and may even get a free drug sample or two (especially if a medical representative just happens to be conducting a “free clinic.”). But at the end of the day, most end up discarding their prescription when they find out how much the medicines cost.
In a country where an estimated 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line, it’s scandalous why medicines cost as much as 184 times higher than the international reference index. For instance, headache medicines that cost P3 in Pakistan are commercially sold here for P25. Sources say the cost of medicines in the Philippines is the second highest in Asia, next only to Japan. Ironically, we were the first country in Asia to enact a generics drug act to provide better access to safe and affordable medicines like antibiotics, at prices lower than branded drugs. Unfortunately, not much has been done for one reason or another, and enforcement has been dismal, to say the least.