"I would like to be told I am wrong if I am, indeed, mistaken. "
With Francisco Duque at the helm of the Department of Health, it seems that big pharmaceutical companies have nothing to worry about with regard to their business here in the Philippines.
Just recently, Duque made public his move to initiate the application of Sinopharm for the Emergency Use Authorization of its anti-covid vaccine. If I recall, no less than the agency tasked with granting the EUA for pharmaceutical companies – the Food and Drug Administration, through Director General Eric Domingo -- bared a few weeks back that Sinopharm had applied at least twice for an EUA last March but had failed to submit its requirements.
I have nothing against Sinopharm’s anti-COVID vaccine. In fact, I most welcome it because based on what I’ve read, it is the only vaccine that has passed clinical trials for children above five years old and for lactating mothers provided the child is at least six months old.
However, as former Rep. and former Presidential Commission on Urban Poor chairman Terry Ridon, applying for an EUA on behalf of a private company is beyond the scope of work of Duque and could even qualify for corrupt practice.
Section 3 of RA 3019 otherwise known as the Anti-Graft And Corrupt Practices Act reads – “Corrupt practices of public officers. xxx The following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful: xxx (e) xxx giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.
“Why is Health Secretary Duque jumping the gun for Sinopharm’s EUA and acting like its local agent in the Philippines?” Ridon asked.
Ridon stresses that “Applying for an EUA is not the mandate of the DOH, but the regulatory obligation of pharmaceutical companies in order to allow the emergency use of its products in the Philippines.”
But this is not the first time Duque appears to have been acting on behalf of the big pharmas. Despite the recommendation of the World Health Organization against remdesivir for treating COVID-19 patients, the Health Secretary has been insisting on its use.
About two weeks ago, the DoH announced it was buying another P1 billion worth of the drug the WHO has declared useless against COVID-19, which is being sold to patients for no less than P8,500 a vial.
Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza described Duque’s move as a clear manifestation of 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,” Atienza said.
Atienza says the “DoH should stop importing and using Remdesivir or otherwise, the public will start suspecting that some (department) officials are making money on the purchases.”
Atienza said that 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.
“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 avers
Duque’s insistence on the use of remdesivir has prompted Anakalusugan Rep. Michael “Idol Mike” Defensor to issue a warning against DoH officials of possible criminal charges if they insist on procuring further supplies of remdesivir despite the WHO’s adverse recommendation.
"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,” Defensor said.
Under the law, DH officials may be held liable for a corrupt act if they perform a transaction that is grossly disadvantageous to the government. Defensor added: “The potential liability is there, regardless of whether the officials involved profited or not from the procurement.”
The offense is punishable with up to 10 years in prison and perpetual disqualification from public office, according to Defensor.
But then, who could stop Duque from pushing through with his alleged liaison works on behalf of the big pharma when it appears that from the very start of the pandemic, he has appeared to favor more expensive medical implements? There was the questionable purchase of the expensive PPEs, his refusal to use the cheaper rapid antigen test before. Of course, he has insisted on using off-label drugs remdesivir which is used for the treatment of Hepatitis C and tocilizumab, a drug used for treating arthritis. And yet he has continuously refused to dispense the cheaper ivermectin.
Maybe because cheaper means less business opportunities. And he has some business to take care of.