People power prevails in the Philippines
by Shally Vitan, Advocacy Coordinator, Oxfam GB Philippines Office
16 May 2008
Some of the issues Oxfam works on aren’t that simple. But as things go, access to cheap medicines is a fairly simple one – no one should have to make a choice between putting food on the table and getting treatment from illness.
Unfortunately, in the poorest countries, vital drugs are often priced out of reach – effectively making clinics and hospitals useless, as people can’t afford to pay for medicines.
But people are fighting back, and winning.
You might remember that last year, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis launched a legal battle to challenge India’s right to produce cheap, generic versions of medicines – which millions of poor people worldwide depend on.
Half a million people – including 80,000 Oxfam supporters – voiced their opposition. And it worked – India won the legal battle, stood firm, and put patients before profits.
And it’s happened again in the Philippines.
Last week a new law was passed which will allow 26 million people – 30% of the population – to access affordable medicines.
The law was passed because hundreds of those most affected by the high price of medicines – people like Lola Eufemia and Lolo Jose, in the video below – stood up and spoke out.
For over two years they defied their age, the elements, and sometimes even hunger to stage numerous demonstrations and monitored the bill as it passed through the Filipino Congress.
Their efforts, supported by Oxfam and other local partners, captured the public imagination and galvanised public support.
The tide is turning, but there is still much more to do – 2 billion people still go without access to medicines – but the victory in the Philippines and in India sends an important message that developing countries can and will fight for their right to protect public health, and win.
And, it is yet another example that campaigning works and that when we speak out, change happens. Add your voice by signing the ‘6 million more’ pledge and join a growing global movement demanding health and education for all.
Photo: Last week campaigners in the Philippines successfully won their battle for affordable medicines (Credit: Gerry Carreon)