27 June 2010

'No Approved Therapeutic Claims'

When I was still a child, my mother used to bring me to a manghihilot whenever I have fever. (Folks just seem to believe in supernatural powers especially when they do not have much money.) After the manghihilot assess me, she would give us some ampalaya leaves she herself planted in her backyard.

It might seem odd, but it has worked for me most of the time when I have colds. I never sensed the bitter taste ampalaya gives off when boiled; I became used to it and would even have it for baon in school.

Remembering that experience, I understand Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral’s action for issuing a disclaimer order on herbal food and dietary supplements. She is just protecting the other side of the pharmaceuticals industry. If consumers will discover a cheaper alternative to their medical needs, mainstream medicines would surely suffer.

The herbal industry, meanwhile, maintains that the disclaimer would turned prospective consumers off, as each box of the herbal supplement would bluntly specify that the product inside is not a tested, proven medicine.

The ongoing argument between the health department and the herbal industry of the country seems like the classic David-Goliath case, with the DoH overtaking the helm. It is THE health department, after all—-the main governing body on health in the Philippines.

Their row reached the courts. And so far, the herbal industry has the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) on its side. It has issued an order that allows the herbal market to continue displaying its products with only a subtle warning.

Translating the present disclaimer listed on herbal food and dietary supplements to the vernacular has been a simple problem gone awry. It revealed not only the medical ignorance of most Filipinos but also the competition of two medical industries that are supposed to take care of our health.

No Approved Therapeutic Claim vs. Mahalagang Paalala: Ang (name of product) ay hindi gamut at hindi dapat gamiting panggamot sa anumang sakit

It is a linguistic problem. Somehow, the warning implied in English sounds as if herbal products are generally safe and could be effective even though there is no solid proof yet that they could replace the medicines prescribed by doctors in hospitals.

Should the health department forbid a citizen's learning of an English line he or she has understood? How could anyone still spend money on a product untested and unverified?

It is an industrial problem. Mainstream medicines would definitely see a dent in their marketing records as Filipinos begin to patronize cheaper ‘medicines’.

I don’t believe Sec. Cabral. I don’t believe that she only intends to forewarn consumers that the products they are going to buy are not medicines per se. While I see her point, I don’t believe that the poorest of the poor of Filipinos would be cajoled by a trivial warning. Let a person decide if a certain product—mainstream medicine or not—is working. Assuring that a certain Filipino could understand a four-word phrase is not just her [Sec. Cabral] responsibility if that’s what she’s worrying about. Filipinos are not that dumb.

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