House panel approves P1.16-B special fund for Dengvaxia recipients

MANILA, Philippines – The House committee on appropriations approved the proposed P1.16-billion medical support fund for Dengvaxia vaccine recipients on Tuesday, May 22. 

The House panel gave its nod to the new budget proposal presented by Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo, broken down as follows:

The fund no longer includes the P270 million that the Department of Health (DOH) originally set aside for the distribution of anti-dengue kits for every child who got Dengvaxia through the now-suspended school-based dengue immunization program.

House appropriations panel chairperson Karlo Nograles had ordered the DOH to scrap the kits and instead focus on the medical profiling of the vaccinated children.

Nograles said the committee approved the budget with the intention to cover all illnesses the Dengvaxia recipients may develop. 

"I don't care if it is clinically related to Dengvaxia or what. Basta any illness, kung itong naturukan ng Dengvaxia na bata ay nagkasakit, kahit ano pang sakit 'yan, kahit na arguably related to Dengvaxia or what, basta nagkasakit, naospital, tutulungan natin," said Nograles.

(I don't care if it is clinically related to Dengvaxia or what. Any illness experienced by any child vaccinated by Dengvaxia, as long as he or she gets sick or hospitalized, we will help them.)

Domingo assured lawmakers and parents present during the committee hearing that the DOH would "not discriminate" against which illnesses to treat.  

"Yes, sir. Our projections will include all illnesses.... Any sickness, from mild to catastrophic, will be covered," said Domingo in Filipino.

The P1.16-billion Dengvaxia supplemental budget will be sourced from the amount returned by vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur to the Philippine government through distributor Zuellig Pharma.

Domingo said President Rodrigo Duterte already certified as urgent the bill proposing the supplemental budget. This means the House may already approve the fund on 2nd and 3rd readings on the same day, fast-tracking the release of the budget for the vaccinated children.

Pork-infused?

Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas, however, said the Dengvaxia supplemental fund is "pork-infused."

She criticized the P940 million to be allotted for the DOH's MAP, which she said is "subject to a politician's endorsement" and "discretionary in nature."

"Addressing the needs of Dengvaxia patients should take the form of increased budget for direct health services and for plantilla health workers, not for discretionary lump sum funds such as the MAP," Brosas said.

"It seems that the Dengvaxia fiasco is now being used to supplement the pork barrel funds lodged in DOH instead of funding target-specific health interventions for Dengvaxia victims. Hindi MAP ang tutugon sa pangamba at suliranin ng mga biktima (MAP is not the answer to the fears and problems of the victims)," she added. 

The Dengvaxia controversy began after Sanofi announced in November 2017 that its vaccine could lead a person to develop a more severe case of dengue when administered to a person who had not been infected by the virus before immunization. 

This caused outrage among parents and the local medical community, as Dengvaxia was the vaccine used when the DOH, under then-secretary Janette Garin, launched the school-based immunization program in April 2016.

Both houses of Congress have since launched their own investigations into the matter. The Senate blue ribbon committee recommended the filing of criminal charges against Garin, ex-president Benigno Aquino III, former budget chief Florencio Abad, and other officials from the DOH, Sanofi, and Zuellig.

The same officials are now facing various cases before the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman, Department of Justice, and the Commission on Elections. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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