Ricardo Ramírez
Executive Director
View from the Top

Over-the-Counter Alternative Empowers Patients

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 09:15

Shrinking budgets and the increasing cost of care are growing concerns throughout the Mexican healthcare sector. The Association of Over-the-Counter Manufacturers (AFAMELA) proposes the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medication as a strategy to allow individuals to take charge of their health and at the same time mitigate costs throughout the industry. “OTCs are easily accessible and can be used to treat nonserious symptoms, allowing patients to empower themselves to manage their care. For that reason, it is important to provide more information to the population on what symptoms can be treated with OTCs,” says Ricardo Ramírez, Executive Director of AFAMELA.

OTCs are medications that do not require a doctor’s prescription for its sale, but all have been approved by COFEPRIS to guarantee their quality, efficacy and safety. As Ramírez explains, some of these products have been in the Mexican market for more than 100 years, so their side effects are well known. Founded in 1985, AFAMELA represents manufacturers of OTCs and promotes their use for the most common conditions. AFAMELA acts as the voice of its 22 members, which include both local and international pharmaceutical companies.

AFAMELA works closely with all players in the sector but it has a very specific mission. “Our agenda is different from that of other pharmaceutical associations. AMIIF and ANAFAM group some of AFAMELA’s members, but their goals are different.”

Mexico’s OTC market is the second-largest in Latin America, says Ramírez. The country has about 1,200 different brands, including both innovative and decades-old products. “The market for OTCs is growing not just in brands, but also in the presentation of different products,” he says, adding that the most commonly used OTCs are analgesics used to treat stomach pain and common cold symptoms.

The association’s main mission, however, is to educate the population. “Our priorities include the generation of public policies that facilitate the expansion of self-care throughout the population, since self-medication must be driven by education as an extra tool for health prevention. As patients have greater access to information about their health, they can make more decisions about it.” In this context, Ramírez says digital platforms have helped to increase health education. “About 70 percent of online searches are related to physical symptoms, which is why AFAMELA also works with digital developers to support the use of scientific, up- to-date information.”

In April 2018, AFAMELA said that a total of 15 million Mexicans visited public sector doctors with common diseases. According to the association, the cost of care for these patients totaled MX$43.5 billion. “We are working with the Ministry of Health and COFEPRIS to raise awareness of which health problems can be addressed with OTCs. All OTCs in Mexico have detailed instruction manuals that allow users to identify the moment when to visit their physician.” Ramírez points to the campaign that was implemented in 2008 to help individuals properly distinguish the symptoms of H1B1 influenza from those of a common cold.

AFAMELA also promotes good manufacturing and exporting practices across the sector and participates in communication campaigns alongside COFEPRIS and the Ministry of Health. A priority for all three organizations is addressing microbial resistance while the association is also focused on removing so-called “miracle drugs” from the market. “COFEPRIS has been extremely efficient in eliminating these types of drugs from the market through many informative campaigns to help individuals identify them and dispose of them. Our role in this collaboration was producing the necessary materials to inform the population.”

As Mexicans gain access to more information, they can make better decisions. AFAMELA wants to support people and companies throughout that process. “OTCs are currently the only pharmaceutical products that can be marketed directly to consumers, the regulations for marketing these medications were positively modified in December 2017.” This is leading to growth in the OTC market and the entrance of more products, such as multivitamins. “Mexico has a lot of room to grow its OTC market,” he says.