MANILA, Philippines – The Influenza A(H1N1) pandemic, bacterial infection of popular peanut butter brands, strengthening of the Bureau of Food and Drugs, price cuts of common drugs, and a post-typhoon leptospirosis outbreak made 2009 a busy year for the Department of Health (DOH).
Since April, the health department has been monitoring the spread of Influenza A(H1N1) virus worldwide.
The virus, first called “swine flu,” has a combination of genes from pig, bird, and human influenza viruses. The outbreak began in Veracruz, Mexico.
On May 21, a 10-year-old Filipina who returned to the country from the United States and Canada became the first confirmed case of infection in the country.
Two weeks later, the De La Salle University in Taft Ave., Manila was temporarily shut down after some of its foreign students tested positive for the virus.
Other private schools soon reported infection among foreign students and Filipino students who vacationed abroad during the summer break.
On June 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic, the first of the 21st century and the first in 41 years.
As of Nov. 7, the virus has killed 32 people among the 5,463 infected in the country.
The DOH said the virus is not considered deadly but is threatening to people with compromised immune and respiratory systems.
At the request of the media, Duque and other health officials held daily press briefings at the height of contagion to keep the public updated on the situation.
Because of this, politicians accused Duque of gaining media mileage to support his supposed candidacy for senator in next year’s elections. He, however, did not file for candidacy for any position.
The DOH continues to monitor the contagion and advises the public to practice proper hygiene and a balanced diet to avoid infection.
In November, it announced that the WHO has pledged to donate nine million doses of Influenza A(H1N1) vaccine for priority groups such as health workers, pregnant women, adults with chronic illnesses, and the very young.
Salmonella-infected peanut butter
In March, the then Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) ordered the recall of three popular peanut butter brands contaminated with salmonella, a disease involving food-borne bacteria.
Swept from supermarket shelves between late March to early April were contaminated batches of Yummy Sweet Peanut Putter, Creamy Peanut Butter, and Ludy’s Peanut Butter.
Pistachio nut products contaminated with salmonella were also recalled from stores nationwide.
New and improved BFAD
This year, the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), a sub agency of the DOH, was renamed Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) with the signing of Republic Act 9711 or the Food and Drugs Administration Act (FDA) of 2009 in August.
The law strengthens the regulatory capacity of the FDA by giving it the power to ban, recall, and order withdrawal of health products that can harm the public and those that make deceptive claims.
The law also mandates the establishment of more field offices and laboratories, as well as the upgrading of equipment and manpower.
Before the law was passed, BFAD only had more than 200 inspectors that monitor food, drugs, and cosmetics sold nationwide.
The upgrading of the BFAD is meant to complement the Cheaper Medicine Act passed in June.
Drug price cut
This year, the DOH managed to cut the prices of some commonly prescribed medicine under the maximum drug retail price (MDRP) or the mandatory 50-percent price cut, and the government-mediated access price (GMAP).
After the Cheaper Medicine Act was signed, the DOH recommended 21 commonly prescribed drugs to be subjected to the maximum drug retail price (MDRP).
Pharmaceutical firms volunteered a 10 to 50 percent price reduction for 16 types of drugs under the GMAP. Only five were placed under the price cap. These drugs are for the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, common infections, and leukemia.
On Aug. 15, the new prices took effect in drug stores with computerized inventory and in pharmacies 500 meters away from hospitals regardless of their inventory procedure.
The deadline for full compliance was set last Sept. 15.
Private hospitals strongly opposed the implementation of the price cap.
The Private Hospital Association of the Philippines (PHAP) demanded more time to dispose of stocks in hospital pharmacies before complying with the price cap. It also complained that drug companies were late in releasing their rebates.
The DOH rejected the demands after getting assurance from pharmaceutical firms that they have already put a reimbursement system in place.
Twenty-two drugs were also submitted for voluntary price cuts.
Two weeks after killer storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” lashed the country in late September to early October, bacterial infection leptospirois spread in flooded communities and in cramped evacuation centers with poor sanitation facilities. –Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star)