Ona ordered probe into vaccines procurement prior to leave
MANILA, Philippines – Before he went on a month-long leave for medical and personal reasons, Health Secretary Enrique Ona created an independent body to probe allegations surrounding the procurement of pneumococcal vaccines in 2012.
In his statement Tuesday, November 11, the health chief-on-leave said an “independent review committee was created to look deeper into this issue."
"We assure the public of DOH's strict adherence to transparency, integrity, and honesty to all government transactions especially to the motto of 'Daang Matuwid.' Our review committee will leave no stone unturned," said Ona, one of the subjects of an ongoing National Bureau of Investigation probe into the same issue.
Acting Health Secretary Janette Garin said in a news briefing on Tuesday that Ona met with her to discuss the issue on October 28, before he went on leave.
“Nagbigay siya [Ona] ng direct and clear instructions to create a committee that will collate all the documents, come up with the exact chronology of events – walang dagdag at walang bawas – and present it to him," she said.
(He gave direct and clear instructions to create a committee that will collate all the documents, come up with the exact chronology of events – no more and no less – and present it to him.)
The committee is composed of 4 former and current employees of the health department, Health Spokesperson Lyndon Lee Suy said.
He assured that the committee will be independent in its investigation. (READ: DOH vows to cooperate with NBI on vaccine probe)
"Nag-identify ng mga members na independent naman. To be fair, independent [sila]….Based on the profiles, hindi natin puwedeng sabihin na may association sa kanya (Ona). We can vouch for that, that they will work independently,” he said after the press conference.
(The members who were identified are independent. To be fair, they are independent. Based on the profiles, we can't say they have any association with Ona. We can vouch for that, that they will work independently.)
Under the directive of President Benigno Aquino III, the NBI began investigating in June the procurement of one million units of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) – a vaccine used for the immunization of infants and children against pulmonary diseases – worth over P833 million.
The procurement was said to have been "directed" by Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag, and "made possible by a certificate of exemption issued" by Ona in 2012.
Tayag refused to grant interviews on Tuesday.
'An issue of procurement'
In his statement, Ona said the 2012 procurement was part of the department’s Expanded Vaccination Program aimed at vaccinating more than 333,000 children.
According to DOH, 13 out of 100,000 children age 1 to 5 years old die annually from pneumonia, the number one cause of death among Filipino children, especially those from poor families.
In 2012, PCV10 was worth $15.40 per unit, while PCV13 – which some sectors referred to as the "more cost-effective” vaccine – was at $16.34 per unit. The cost difference between the two vaccines was almost a dollar.
“It is in the appreciation of the ‘cost effectiveness’ of these two competing vaccines for Filipino children that usual medical discussion and differences is being presumed to have been tinged with ‘graft.’ This is what the committee is investigating closely,” Ona said in his statement.
Lee Suy clarified the issue is not about the vaccine itself, but the procurement process.
“[PCV10 and PCV13] are both vaccines against pneumonia, but PCV13 can address more diseases…other than pneumonia. When we weigh our options, we look at the overall effect [of the vaccine] on the target population,” Lee Suy said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He said the vaccines procured in 2012 were delivered late 2013, and the department started using them in January 2014. DOH began procuring PCV13 in 2013.
The committee is expected to submit its report to Garin within the month. Lee Suy said Ona is expected to be back from his leave on November 28.
On November 3, the President said that Ona had asked to go on leave so that the Cabinet official can prepare the appropriate response to questions raised by the Chief Executive on the vaccination campaign, among others. (READ: Still satisfied with Ona? Aquino mum)
Aquino, who was asked then if he was satisfied with Ona, said "whether or not I am satisfied (with him) will come after the results of these answers to the questions that were propounded to him." – Rappler.com