Improving access to medicines in Panama

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The City of Knowledge Foundation held on Thursday, March 12, the discussion session "Improving access to medicines in Panama," at the City of Knowledge Convention Center.

Dr. Guillermo Castro, Vice President for Research and Education of the City of Knowledge Foundation, welcomed those present by noting that the event is part of the fabric of CDS, which works in knowledge communities formed by an internal network, a local network and an external network of collaborators, to make successful and productive events.

For his part, Dr. Jorge Motta, National Secretary of Science and Technology, stated that SENACYT works for a sustainable development and equitable growth, especially in the area of health. He added, "having good quality medicines is a necessity for Panama and a goal to be achieved".

The discussion session began with words from Dr. Ismael J. Hidalgo, President of Absorption Systems Panama, who through a video explained that poor quality medicines can cause irreparable damage, and this represents a great risk since in Panama there are many. He expressed the need to ensure the quality of medicines through new regulations so that each product undergoes the necessary tests.

For his part, Antonio Arias, General Manager of Absorption Systems Panama, spoke about the lack of access to medicines and how this produces poverty and lack of development. In this context, development and accessibility to quality medicines is critical to improving the health of Panamanians and avoid long-term costs for the country. He also emphasized that this is the first event of a series of four to be held during 2015, which will seek to contribute to the situation and make the necessary changes.

Ms. Leida Barrios, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Panama, stated that it is a pleasure to participate in an event that brings together many actors who can influence in the solution of the problem of accessibility to medicines. She further stressed that accessibility to medicines in Panama is not conditioned only to the right price, but also to obtain quality products, adding that "ideally all Panamanians should have the medication at the right time, in the right place, with the guarantee of its efficiency, and for the best price." Ms. Barrios said that they should think carefully about the processes to ensure the quality of medicines, the importance of the existence of good pharmaceutical establishments, the cost of drugs, and the need to review the country's Drug Policy.

Dr. Hilda Leal, Systems and Services Advisor of PAHO/WHO in Panama, discussed the strategy for universal access to health and universal health coverage. During her speech she referred to the quality of life in Panama and how this has improved over the years, which has enabled the society to live longer. However, there are inequities in access to health services, poor quality of these services, reduced public spending on health, increased segmentation and deepening inequalities, and a problem of health expenditures for poor families. The strategy for access to health compromises to close the wide gap regarding health issues and access to medicines.

Meanwhile Ms. Jenny Vergara, National Director of Pharmacy and Drugs of the Ministry of Health, started from the premise that there is no development without health, and this represents a compromise for all Panamanians. She stated there is a need to change health governance and help people, through education, learn to prevent getting into risky situations. Panama has a National Drug Policy with several principles that recognizes health as a human and social right, which is a responsibility of the state. She also mentioned that there are several difficulties in access to medicines in the country due to geographic and cultural differences, financial fragility, high prices and lack of commercial interest from manufacturers. For Ms. Vergara it is very important to monitor medicine prices abroad since there are differences with the prices of medicines in Panama, and added "Panama has made several efforts to fight limitations on access to medicines."

In closing, Dr. Jagannatha Rao, Director of INDICASAT AIP, spoke about the research they carry out in their Center for Biodiversity and Drug Discovery. For Dr. Rao it is very important to discover new drugs for diseases that continue to evolve. During his lecture he highlighted the research areas they focus on for the prevention of diseases, and the clinical trials conducted to generate and use this new knowledge.

During the discussion session a conclusion was reached which stated that the sustained effort by regulating agents and an active participation of the private sector, are some of the keys to improving this scenario.