Dengvaxia, not Acosta, is the real culprit - The Manila Times
Dengvaxia, not Acosta, is the real culprit
AFTER 19 years of being polio-free, the highly contagious poliovirus has resurfaced in the country following the discovery of the disease in a three-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur and a five-year-old boy in Laguna, bringing the number of confirmed polio cases to two.
After reports of the outbreak hogged the headlines, a cabal of drug companies, doctors and Department of Health (DoH) officials reportedly went into overdrive to demonize Public Attorney's Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta, blaming her for "reviving" the debilitating disease. It also comes as no surprise that in recent months, Acosta has also been blamed for the outbreak in measles cases in parts of Luzon and the Visayas. Even Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd obliquely lays blame on Acosta saying that the remarks of the PAO chief have contributed to a "decline in vaccine confidence and a rise in cases of measles and other vaccine preventable diseases."
True, Acosta's very public crusade against the evils of Dengvaxia - especially after the death of 145 people, mostly children, who were inoculated with an untested vaccine - may have eroded the public's trust in the government's immunization or vaccination program. But the fault lies squarely on the DoH for prematurely rolling out an experimental drug and administering it improperly in the first place. If the Health department hadn't foisted this unproven vaccine on unsuspecting parents and their children, we wouldn't be in this mess at all. Don't shoot the messenger.
If I recall correctly, the Philippines was the first Asian country to approve the commercial sale of Dengvaxia when the vaccine first came out. No country was using it. Malaysia rejected it. Singapore allowed it only for private use. The government spent P3.5 billion to purchase the vaccines and then launched a dengue vaccination campaign. This turned out to be short-lived.
A month before the mass vaccination program, the World Health Organization (WHO) released an update stating that Dengvaxia "may be ineffective or may even increase the risk in those who have not yet had the disease at the time of the first vaccination." But the Aquino 3rd administration still pushed through with its immunization program. It was only after Sanofi, the Dengvaxia manufacturer, released a statement that the vaccine could have negative health implications to people who have not had dengue but took the vaccine that the DoH suspended its vaccination campaign.
What riles me personally is that, to this day, not a single head has rolled because of the Dengvaxia debacle. This even after a Senate investigation recommended the filing of graft charges against former and present DoH officials who were responsible for procuring, introducing and injecting thousands of schoolchildren with the flawed vaccine.
A few weeks ago, the DoH permanently revoked the certificates of product registration (CPRs) of the controversial Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine due to "Sanofi's complete disregard of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulations, which were precisely put in place by law to ensure safety." But that won't end the controversies hounding the Health department.
In 2018, the DoH was again on the front page for losing billions of pesos due to the poor implementation and planning of the Barangay Health Station project, with reports citing incomplete documentation, irregular procurements, and non-validation of construction sites for health stations - an anomaly which Duque pinned on his predecessor. There is also the P154-billion ghost dialysis scandal involving the DoH attached agency, PhilHealth, which has remained unresolved until now.
Last month, the Commission on Audit flagged the DoH for wastage - over P18 billion worth of drugs and medicine stocked in the agency's warehouses, a significant portion of which were already approaching their expiry dates. This is separate from the "over P30 million worth of drugs and medicine distributed to various centers for health development, treatment for rehabilitation centers and hospitals [which] had already expired." Literally and figuratively, that's billions of pesos down the drain.
It doesn't help that recent reports have popped up pointing to the DoH's underutilization and misuse of funds. An audit of the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) revealed that, in 2018, only 35 percent of the allocated fund was utilized. It was worse in 2017 and 2019, where only 17 percent of the funds were used by the agency. More than that, their disbursement rate of funds last year was a dismal 62 percent. Records also showed that the "DoH had P5.4 billion of unused funds in 2012; P7.5 billion in 2013, P9.2 billion in 2014; P12.7 billion in 2015; and P16.1 billion in 2016."
All in all, the public's declining confidence in the health department stems not only from the Dengvaxia scandal, but also from the DoH's track record, which has been tainted by misuse and underutilization of public funds. So pointing the finger at Acosta is like "wagging the dog." The DoH would do better focusing on doing its job right instead of diverting attention from its many debacles by imputing wrongdoing on the country's chief public attorney.
Duque is an old hand in government - and at the DoH. Although the Health secretary had no part in the Dengvaxia vaccination campaign, he ought to know better that it is his own agency's credibility and reputation that needs fixing if he is to regain the public's trust in the DoH's immunization campaign and health programs. Stop picking on Acosta and move on.
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