A Bitter Row

The re – classification of ampalaya from one of the ten herbs with medical benefits to being totally folkloric and tradition – bound herb with no medicinal properties by DOH Secretary Manuel Dayrit is unjustifiable for he rejects countless researches done by previous secretaries of the agency and even private scientists.

During then secretary and now Senator Juan Flavier’s term, he classified ampalaya as one of the ten herbs that has scientific and medical benefits after countless experiments forwarded by private scientists and even after the experimentation of the department itself. Since then, the Philippine medical community has depended upon this herb both as an alternative medicine for diabetes mellitus and as a food – supplement for elders. For many years, taking of ampalaya pills and teas has garnered support especially from the poor masses that cannot meet the prices of laboratory drugs like insulin injections.

The recent Circular 165 – A series of 1995 issued by Manuel Dayrit however has disregarded all experiments conducted during Juan Flavier’s time and even rejects all recent developments of the ampalaya food – supplement. To make it worse, Dayrit has been reported to lack necessary evidences and proofs that ampalaya is indeed ineffective to declare Circular 165 – A that is totally against the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act of 1997. In Article II, Section V of the said act, the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Healthcare (PITAHC) is the experimenting and researching body connected with the Department of Health in the advancement of alternative medicine. Then, why do the findings of the PITAHC and the DOH differ?

It is also surprising that Manuel Dayrit has taken specific experimentations on ampalaya than the other 9 herbs. The ampalaya food – supplement raked in about Php 700 million which accounted for 26% of the total market. Local producers believe that big pharmaceutical companies are behind the declaration of the circular for it threatens laboratory drugs particularly because conventional ampalaya food – supplement has lessened the effects of diabetes mellitus in some patients that many are attracted to buy it as more doctors are encouraging the use of this food – supplement. Local producers think that Dayrit has favored foreign pharmaceutical companies instead of local ones because they bring in more investments. When the head of the organization of foreign pharmaceutical companies based in the Philippines was asked, he said that they only object in certain advertisements because ampalaya food products are only food – supplements, not a cure for diabetes mellitus for the disease is incurable. According to him, some advertisements assure patients of recovery from the disease which totally misleads consumers.

For now, Manuel Dayrit has left the medical and public community with questions for recent experiment results are totally against the DOH’s findings. In the website of the DOH (www.doh.gov.ph), they still include ampalaya as a natural cure for diabetes mellitus. The public needs answers not reasons. Members of the community even cited the fact that they will not endorse products that they themselves do not trust. Right now, Dayrit must ensure that the row be stopped and ensure the credibility of the Department of Health as the medical community’s regulating body.

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