DOH pushes for creation of Pharmaceutical Economic Zone

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 28) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday said there is a need to establish a local Pharmaceutical Economic Zone to help the country become self-sufficient in vaccines and drug supply, and to make medicines more affordable.

During the generics medicine summit, DOH officer-in-charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the government aims to substantially increase local medicine production in 10 years.

This includes producing 60% of the registered medicines, and becoming a major manufacturer of essential drugs.

Officials also project sourcing at least half of the generic drugs from local manufacturers.

"We want to strengthen and promote the Philippine pharmaceutical industry to become a global player in pharmaceutical innovation and access," Vergeire said.

"We want our local industry to expand its capability in the manufacturing of complex products such as active pharmaceutical ingredients, herbal medicines, vaccines and biologicals," she added.

Vergeire said there should be fair competition between branded and unbranded medicines, adding there will be a "huge reduction in medicine prices" if the local manufacturing industry thrives.

She has yet to provide more details of the plan.

House Committee on Health chairperson Ciriaco Gato Jr. has said the planned Pharmaceutical Economic Zone will be dedicated to product research and development as well as manufacturing.

Attracting manufacturers

The DOH and the Department of Trade and Industry are looking at giving incentives to manufacturers to help local production flourish.

But to attract manufacturers, Anti-Red Tape Authority officer-in-charge Ernesto Perez said the government should be able to assure investors that there is an available market.

He shared that no manufacturer took the Duterte administration's offer to set up local laboratories despite the green lane established in the middle of the pandemic due to lack of steady data on market demand.

"Any manufacturer before he decides to spend so much would have some confidence on data on market requirement that is something we need to reach out to the DOH or DOST (Department of Science and Technology) to assure him, the investor, that there is an available market," Perez said.

Aside from the economic zone, the DOH is also asking lawmakers to amend the Republic Act No. 9502, or the Cheaper Medicines Act — to include a review board that will monitor drug market prices.

The department will also recommend price regulations on pharmaceutical products upon first entry of its generic counterpart to ensure fair pricing in accordance to the World Health Organization Standards, and to require prescriptions of generic brands in public and private health facilities.

DOH pushing other bills in Congress

Vergeire also bared their request to lawmakers to pass other bills needed to strengthen health emergency response and access to medicines, including:

- The Pandemic Protection Act of 2021 to provide incentives to manufacturer or importer of critical products, and suspend export requirements which bar them from offering products and services domestically during a pandemic or state of public health emergency.

Vergeire said, if enacted into law, this will also mandate the national government to give preference to domestically produced critical products.

- The Pandemic and All- Hazards Preparedness Act to increase the preparedness and capacity of healthcare facilities, and plan for medical surges during a public health emergency.

- The Philippine Health Security Act which will help the country plan a response to deliberate release of biological or chemical agents against the public.

Vergeire said this bill will also lead to the creation of a medical reserve corps under the command of medical experts, scientists, practitioners, and volunteers that will be trained for health emergencies.

- and to amend the Republic Act No. 9184 of the Government Procurement Act which mandates the government to buy locally produced and manufactured goods.

Gato said the House panel will first tackle in November the proposed creation of a Virology Institute, a Centers for Disease Control and Medical Corps, mentioned by President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. But lawmakers will consider the amendment to the procurement law a priority bill as well.