A congressman who has been promoting an anti-parasitic drug originally used for animals as a treatment for COVID-19 on Sunday said Department of Health (DOH) officials could face graft charges over the procurement of remdesivir.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor raised this possibility if the DOH continues to buy remdesivir despite the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation against the drug’s use in COVID-19 patients.
"We consider all new purchases of remdesivir as reckless and foolish spending in light of the WHO recommendation, and considering that government is scrounging for money to buy more COVID-19 vaccines and to pay for the P2,000 cash aid for every Filipino contemplated under the Bayanihan 3 bill," Defensor said.
“All further purchases of remdesivir – after the WHO came out with its adverse recommendation – may be deemed as transactions highly detrimental to the government under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” he added.
Under the law, any Health officials may be held culpable for a corrupt act if they perform a transaction that is “grossly disadvantageous’ to the government, he said.
“The potential liability is there, regardless whether the officials involved profited or not from the procurement,” he said.
“We would urge the Department of Budget and Management to repurpose the money meant for remdesivir, preferably to acquire more COVID-19 vaccines,” he noted.
The party-list lawmaker said evidence from the “solidarity trial” showed that remdesivir “had no important effect” in reducing the need for mechanical ventilation, shortening the time to clinical improvement, lessening the risk of mortality and on other COVID-19 patient outcomes, according to the WHO.
Buhay party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza also questioned the P1 billion spent to buy remdesivir.
“Why is the DOH still buying another P1 billion worth of remdesivir when no less than the World Health Organization has rejected the drug, which costs up to P8,500 per vial as additional medication to treat COVID-19 patients?” he asked.
He slammed the DOH’s “wasteful double standard of promoting a very expensive investigational drug such as remdesivir, while stonewalling other potential low-priced treatments, including human-grade ivermectin that costs only P35 to P40 per capsule.”
“The WHO recommends against the use of remdesivir because it does not have any positive effect on COVID-19 patient outcomes. And yet, the DOH is still irresponsibly using the drug in addition to standard care for patients,” he said.
“The DOH should stop importing and using remdesivir. Otherwise, the public will start suspecting that some (department) officials are making money on the purchases,” Atienza said.
“In ditching remdesivir, the WHO is also rightly worried that use of the costly drug might divert and deplete limited public money that may be better spent to prevent the spread of COVID-19 via more aggressive testing, contact tracing and isolation strategies,” he said.
“Other wealthy nations can throw their money away on remdesivir if they want to, but in our case, we simply can’t afford to,” Atienza said.
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