LIKE many others, you may have also wondered if generic medicines are really necessary. There is nothing new about them because it’s just copy of the ones we already know, right? It may be cheaper than the popular brands but is it just as effective? And more important, is it really safe for my family?
For you to really appreciate the need for generic medicine, let’s take a quick look at our present situation.
First of all, we are a thriving country with a largely young population.
The Philippines is blessed with a largely educated, English-speaking, vibrant population. And of the 107.2 million Filipinos estimated as of December 2018, only less than 5percent are aged 65 years or over. (31.8 percent 0-14 years old, 63.4 percent 15-64 years old, 4.7 percent 65 years or more. Source: indexmundi.com/Philippines)
About 10 million Filipinos live and work abroad. They are expected to remit inward $28 billion this year—mainly to provide for their families here, but the influx of foreign currency also boosts the country coffers.
And because of the above and other reasons, the economy is currently growing strongly at over 6 percent per year. This will be further bolstered if the government successfully implements its infrastructure programs, and if more foreign investments come in.
But here are the challenges our country faces:
Based on the Philippine Statistics Authority, while 40 million Filipinos are employed, we also have over 7 million underemployed, and 2 million unemployed. We have at least 3.7 million families that are considered to be impoverished, have erratic income, limited education, living in crowded unsanitary conditions and usually malnourished. Their frail bodies and weaker immune system make them susceptible to childhood illnesses, infections, acute and chronic diseases. With the little income they may have, they delay seeking medical treatment and over-depend on government health services which are unfortunately understaffed, underbudgeted and overwhelmed by patients.
A large segment of the population, middle income families are only a little better off health-wise. Most of the time, they are just one medical emergency away from losing all their savings. If they are employed, some relief can come from health insurance. Still it is not uncommon for them to turn to Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) or Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) for assistance, which are usually limited and delayed.
Despite the government health-care expenditure amounting to about P655 billion in 2016, many individuals and families usually have no choice but to absorb a large portion or even the entire cost of their medical expenses. And in case of serious illnesses which require expensive medical treatment and prolonged maintenance medication, the burden on families can be quite heavy even for those from the higher income sectors.
But there is still hope. All Filipinos may soon have access to health services with the Senate passing on the third and final reading a bill that seeks to provide adequate health-care services to all Filipinos. This came as a response to President Duterte’s call for the proposed measure’s passage by the Senate. We all hope and pray that Universal Healthcare will become a law and is implemented widely and soonest.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Universal Healthcare as a system whereby every citizen, regardless of age, gender, income can receive health services without incurring financial hardship. Although we have yet to see the healthcare benefits we will actually get with this bill, we hope it gets proper funding when we have so many in need. We still lack in health facilities and the full spectrum of medical practitioners.
So what am I saying? Our country is still growing but medical treatment may be too expensive for most of us.
So one simple and obvious way to address our health-care needs is for individuals, families and the government to use quality affordable generic medicines as much as possible. Costs can be reduced by up to 90 percent and the savings can be gainfully used to help more people.
Take a look at the United States 9 out of every 10 prescriptions were dispensed using generic drugs in 2017. When both branded and generic versions of the medication were available, the generic was chosen 97 percent of the time, resulting in significant patient savings.
In the Philippines, we still have a long way to go in this regard. But we have already been made tremendous strides in the past 10 years.
Actually the Generics Law was passed in 1988 to provide the general public with cheaper alternative medicines that give similar therapeutic benefits as expensive innovator products. That was 30 years ago. They are set up the Botika ng Bayan and Botika ng Barangay but only with limited success. The public perception of generic medicines was largely negative, and people continued to buy the expensive branded medicines which was heavily marketed by the big pharma companies and recommended by doctors in general.
The situation began to change in the last 10 years as privately owned drugstore chains started to promote quality affordable generic medicines. People gradually became better informed about generic medicines and understood why they are much cheaper while providing similar therapeutic benefits as the branded products. As a result, a noticeable and growing shift to generic medicines was taking place. Many are now actually asking if there is a generic equivalent for the innovator brand.
Understandably, the high-income families have tended to be slow in shifting to generic medicines. I believe it is because they have been accustomed to using the branded medicines recommended by their doctors, and they can easily afford the higher cost. However, this reluctance to shift may change in the near future if we consider the situation in the US and other developed countries where generics are widely accepted and used.
Should you trust and use generic medicines? The answer is a strong yes. Generic medicines have similar or even identical therapeutic benefits as the branded but with huge savings. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Health (DOH) apply the same strict regulations and rigorous screening of generics as they do for innovator brands.
The yes becomes stronger if you make it a point to purchase the medicine only from established reputable drugstore chain outlets who are very careful about sourcing and carrying only quality products.
Consider the following where you buy your generics:
A good sign is if the store personnel go out of their way to do counseling and provide additional health services. The overall quality and consistency of customer service is one of the best reasons to make repeat purchases in that store.
The store is air-conditioned. Medicines are adversely affected by temperature and humidity and since we live in the tropics, the heat can degrade the efficacy of the medicine. Although air-conditioning adds to the monthly expenses of the store, it is what’s best for the medicines, and for the customers.
Does the pharmacy easily give you the antibiotics even if you don’t have a doctor’s prescription? If they do, it is a clear sign that the sale is more important to them than to make sure that the medicines will actually be beneficial to you. There is a serious global concern about antimicrobial resistance where bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics due to their wide misuse. So if the store is strict with antibiotics, you can trust them.
Let me end this by saying that we need generic medicines. Generics are more affordable. Generics are safe. And we can trust the generic medicine if we get it from the proper stores. It would be better if we adopt the market preference of the US and other developed countries to use generics when both branded and generic versions are available. Such a strategy will allow us to achieve greater overall health benefits with the finite and tight human and financing resources that we have.
Teodoro L. Ferrer or Ted is an advocate of health and wellness and the chairman of the Generika Group of Companies. After retiring in 2003, he and Julien Bello founded Generika Drugstore—the pioneer in the retail of generic medicine in the country. His advocacy of providing access to quality affordable generic medicine was inspired by his father, who was a doctor in Zamboanga and offered his services to both prominent families and the poor. Today, Generika Drugstore celebrates its 15th year and the commitment to provide access to quality affordable health-care lives on.