Lawmakers want to stop PRC probe into ivermectin distribution in QC

Lawmakers on Monday, May 17, approved a motion to write a letter to the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) and the Office of the President (OP) to stop the probe into alleged illegal distribution of anti-parasitic drug ivermectin in Quezon City last month.

In the House committee on good government hearing on alleged red tape in the process of approving experimental drugs, Anakalusugan Party-list Representative Mike Defensor said the OP should intervene to stop the investigation.

"We will write PRC and Office of the President, and tell them not to revoke our doctors' licenses, those who have prescribed and those who will prescribe in the future. This is a right of the doctors and the right of the people. They should be allowed to get prescription and allowed to get ivermectin," Defensor said in a mix of English and Filipino.

But House committee chairman DIWA Party-list Representative Michael Aglipay said Defensor could not make the motion since he is not an active member of the committee.

"I believe a member of the committee will make that motion. Just provisionally, even urge the PRC and OP to intervene so the licenses of the doctors won't be cancelled," Defensor said in a mix of English and Filipino.

House Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera-Dy made the motion, as she is an ex-officio member of the committee.

"I strongly move that we strongly recommend to the PRC to stop looking into revoking the licenses our doctors who are prescribing ivermectin due to lack of evidence on their part. They just want to make this medicine accessible to everyone and besides it’s the responsibility of the doctor who prescribes it," she said.

This was seconded by SAGIP party-list Representative Rodante Marcoleta.

All three lawmakers have been actively advocating for ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment despite warnings from health regulatory officials here and abroad.

On April 29, Defensor and Marcoleta led the distribution of ivermectin in Barangay Old Balara, Quezon City, which was met with criticism due to "invalid prescriptions."

The prescriptions were only written in a clean sheet of paper without the name of the physician who prescribed the drug, the license number, and professional tax receipt numbers. The laws mandate that doctors include these details in prescriptions they dispense.

As experimental treatment for COVID-19, oral ivermectin is allowed by the Philippines' Food and Drug Administration only in two instances: if the medical facility dispensing the drug secured a compassionate special permit, or if a doctor has prescribed it and the drug is compounded by a pharmacist according to the prescription.

On May 7, the FDA announced that it issued a certificate of product registration (CPR) to a local company to register ivermectin as an anti-nematode. Nematodes are parasitic roundworms that could infect humans.

FDA chief Eric Domingo, however, said that a medical prescription is still needed when buying the drug.

The Department of Health (DOH) on April 30 said it would officially endorse to the Professional Regulation Commission that it investigate the issuance of "invalid prescriptions" so that sanctions would be imposed as deemed necessary, based on existing laws.

'Unethical'

In the same hearing, Dr. Leo Olarte of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said the doctors who gave the prescriptions during the ivermectin distribution violated the Republic Act 2382 or the Medical Act of 1959.

"They are violating RA 2382. Them prescribing it which is not effective and not registered, that is unethical, kahit po hindi (even though not) illegal. Hindi po namin sabihin sa aming mga doctor na mag prescribe ng gamot na hindi rehistrado, unethical po iyon (We will not advise our doctors to prescribe a medicine that is unregistered, that is unethical)," Olarte said.

"Kung sinabi po ng FDA na rehistrado po siya for COVID-19, wala po kami problema diyan basta susunod kami sa batas. [If] registered po for COVID-19, susunod po kami," he added.

(If the FDA says, it is registered for COVID-19, we don't have a problem on that, we will follow the law. If registered for COVID-19, we will follow.)

There is an ongoing public debate over the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 – with some doctors recommending it and patients sharing how it had been beneficial to them, while other medical experts issued a stern warning against its unproven use in treating the deadly disease.

Amid the debates, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and DOH to study the use of ivermectin as a possible treatment against COVID-19. He gave the order a week after the DOST itself said there was no need for local studies as there were ongoing trials abroad whose results could inform decisions in the Philippines.  – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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