Duterte proposes buying P19.1-B drugs, vaccines

SENATE President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday confirmed that Malacañang plans to buy P19.1 billion worth of drugs and vaccines in 2020 and will send 80 percent of these to provinces.

Recto said the “purchase order” is contained in President Duterte’s 36-page Budget Message for 2020, which serves as his cover letter to the voluminous documents detailing the proposed P4.1 trillion 2020 national budget sent to Congress yesterday.

In his message to lawmakers, President Duterte stated his directive that 80 percent of 2020 purchases “shall be allocated to provinces where the incidence of diseases is highest.”

By imposing this earmark, President Duterte is making the “right drug prescription,” Recto said.

“By adopting this new distribution formula, government is saying that it has learned its lesson and that there will no longer be a repeat of drugs spoiling in Department of Health (DOH) warehouses,” Recto said.

“Kung ang gamot ay dapat fast-acting, ganoon din dapat ang distribution nito. This rule in dispensing drugs is as old as the proverb ‘Aanhin pa ang damo, kung patay na ang kabayo?’” Recto stressed.

Funds for the purchase of pharmaceutical products are lodged in the DOH budget and account for 20 percent of its proposed P92.2 billion allocation for next year, Recto said.

More stocks in the “government’s medicine cabinet,” Recto said, will reduce Filipino households’ “out-of-pocket” yearly expenditures for drugs, which in 2017 reached P187 billion.

But Health officials should not wait for next year to heed the presidential instructions on the distribution of drug stocks, Recto said. “They should do it now, because drug spoilage is not a blockbuster movie that merits sequels.”

The Commission on Audit has flagged the DOH over its large hoard of medicines. The watchdog said DOH had an end-2018 inventory of P18.5 billion worth of medicines, with P295 million worth nearing expiry as of January this year.

Recto expressed confidence that the drug distribution problem is now being “competently handled by the DOH leadership.”

“I know that Secretary Duque is now addressing this problem, and being an old hand at the DOH, he knows what to do. The good doctor will certainly not allow this wastage to happen during his watch,” he said.

For 2020, the total budget imputed to the DOH is P166.5 billion – P92.2 billion for the “DOH proper,” P67.4 billion in premium payments of sponsored sectors to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., and other health agencies like the four Quezon City-based specialty hospitals, among others.

“If we use P166.5 billion as the reference figure, then about 12 percent of this amount will be for drugs, medicines and vaccines,” Recto said.