EO to make DOH sole distributor of anti-TB medicines

Mara Cepeda
EO to make DOH sole distributor of anti-TB medicines
Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial says the executive order would be a response to a 2016 national survey which showed around one million Filipinos have tuberculosis

MANILA, Philippines – To find out how many Filipinos are suffering from tuberculosis (TB) and to finally wipe out the disease, the Department of Health (DOH) will be designated as the only entity allowed to dispense anti-TB medicines in the country.

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said President Rodrigo Duterte has committed to sign an executive order (EO) that would allow only the DOH to provide anti-TB drugs to patients.

“The executive order that we’re asking the President to sign is really something bold in terms of ensuring that no drugs will be available in the private sector. Only DOH will have the drugs for tuberculosis so that we can really capture the population and ensure that they get full treatment,” said Ubial in a press conference on Thursday, August 17.

Ubial said this same method, where the government is the sole source of medicines, was applied by the DOH for leprosy.

“Only DOH has the drugs for leprosy, so all cases that are diagnosed really take the drug. It’s for free and they get complete treatment,” she said. 

Anti-TB medicines are also distributed for free. 

Ubial said the President “has the political will (to sign the EO). And if it will help the patients with tuberculosis, the President has the political will to do it.” 

The forthcoming EO would be one of the Duterte administration’s responses to the results of the 2016 National Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey, which was released on Thursday.

The survey showed that 554 new cases of TB were found per 100,000 residents, which Ubial said was “way above” the estimate of the World Health Organization (WHO) of 322 new cases per 100,000 residents in 2015. (READ: WHO urges nations: Wipe out tuberculosis by 2050

“This means that around one million Filipinos are infected with TB and many of them are unaware of their health condition,” said Ubial.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that has affected millions of humans for thousands of years. The symptoms of the disease include fever, colorless urine, cough resulting in thick sputa or mucus secretion, and loss of thirst and appetite.

Removing the stigma

Aside from curing the disease, Ubial said the DOH must also address the stigma against TB patients. She said the government must change its approach to wipe out tuberculosis.

In the same press briefing, TB survivor Mildred Pancho narrated her experience. “They are so afraid na may makatabi na naka-mask, kasi when all the while, you are being a responsible patient, pero ‘yun ‘yung mare-receive [mo na reaction]. Na kaya ka naka-mask para ‘di ka makahawa, pero mas lalayuan ka pa,” said Pancho, who was fighting back tears. 

Pancho said when she was applying for a job a few years ago, she was even asked whether or not she was infectious even if she had already received full treatment.

According to Ubial, the DOH plans to change the policy where tuberculosis patients are asked to enter the backdoor of health centers. These back entrances are named “TB Directly Observed Therapy (DOTS) Center.”

“We’re changing the way we’re actually addressing that (stigma) by reformulating it into a cough center or a more respiratory disease center and then allowing patients not to be stigmatized. Kasi (Because) the way we provide the services before was stigmatizing already,” Ubial said.

The DOH will also be intensifying its anti-tuberculosis campaign this year by including chest x-ray screening in its Tamang Serbisyo sa Kalusugan ng Pamilya (Tsekap) program.

Tsekap is an essential health services package being offered by the DOH. It includes physical examination, developmental assessment of infants, blood pressure measurement, and examination of eyes, ears, teeth, and breasts. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.