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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Tulfo, Herbosa trade barbs over branded drugs

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Health Secretary Teodora Herbosa and Senator Raffy Tulfo got into a heated discussion during a Senate hearing on Tuesday over the “junkets” supposedly sponsored by pharmaceutical companies in exchange for doctors prescribing their manufactured medicines.

During the Senate health committee hearing, Tulfo raised the “rampant” practice among physicians.

He questioned why public hospitals often use branded medicines for their patients, especially those who were admitted in their facilities, instead of generic medicines that are way cheaper.

Herbosa, a doctor, said that while an executive order exists on the use of generic drugs in public hospitals, there are cases that the generic medicines are “not clinically effective.”

“Not all drugs are created the same. Sometimes, it’s cheaper but the quality is not that good,” Herbosa said.

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The Health Secretary also noted that all procurements in public hospitals undergo public bidding as provided under the law, and most of the time suppliers of generic medicines win these biddings due to the price they offer.

But Herbosa explained that generic medicines or even anesthesia were being replaced with branded counterparts because of the latter’s efficacy.

But Tulfo asserted that doctors prefer to prescribe branded medicines due to the trips sponsored by pharmaceutical firms.

“I’m not saying you’re lying pero (but) I am saying what you are saying is a half-truth. I’ll tell you why — doctors in hospitals prefer branded medicine, because of junkets,” Tulfo said.

Doctors are shown “a good time” by pharmaceutical companies in seminars or their schooling abroad, the senator said, noting they get “free airfare, business class (seats), hotel accommodation, food, entertainment, and we’re talking millions of pesos, or even dollars.”

Tulfo pointed out pharmaceutical firms will not sponsor trips if they are not expecting something in return from doctors.

He claimed there are trips to the United States, Canada, and Australia for doctors that were already scheduled until the end of the year, adding he can prove this allegation from doctors who have divulged this information to him.

“Sometimes a hotel in Las Vegas is occupied by doctors from different countries, including the Philippines… the doctors even receive money to be used in the casinos,” the senator said.

While Herbosa acknowledged there were junkets before, he said the Philippines has become a signatory to the Mexico City Principles, which provide voluntary codes of business ethics in the biopharmaceutical sector.

“The Philippines follows this professionally. All professional organizations are supposed to not accept these gifts from the pharmaceutical industry based on the Mexico Protocol,” Herbosa said.

“We are all signatory and all professionals are expected to follow it. If something like this happens, pharmaceutical firms are charged and penalized. They are penalized by their own associaton, the Philippine Association of Pharmaceutical Industry. So there is self-policing,” he added.

Tulfo remained unconvinced, saying: “Doc, I can’t take it anymore. Were you born yesterday? This practice violates the code of ethics of the medical profession for doctors because number one, it affects the autonomy in giving the best and most affordable healthcare to the patients.”

“Number two, in a way, exploits patients for the doctor’s personal gain. Number three, it does not improve access to equitable healthcare,” Tulfo asserted.

Herbosa responded and said that charges can be filed against pharmaceutical companies that give “gifts” to doctors, and these gifts should be declared as donations or grants to hospitals and educational institutions.

If the physicians were found to be receiving benefits or gifts from pharmaceutical companies, Herbosa said cases against them should be filed with the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC).

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