Discrimination against natural medicine

SOMETIME in October 2018, Cong. Gary Alejano requested the Congressional Committee on Health to investigate the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which had raided and closed the medical clinic of Dr. Farrah Agustin-Bunch in Tarlac City for selling herbs grown in her backyard. There have been hearings done for that purpose but with no conclusive findings yet.

Dr. Bunch and the FDA have filed criminal cases against each other, but that is not the angle I would like to discuss here.

The sweeping closure of a medical clinic owned by a licensed physician indicates the government’s negligence vis-a-vis the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act (TAMA) that then President Fidel Ramos signed into law in 1998.

Originally proposed by the late Senator Juan Flavier, the law created the Traditional Medicine Authority (TMA) to promote systematic and scientific development of alternative and traditional medicine in the Philippines. It was intended to complement, not displace, conventional medicine practice.

President Ramos predicted that it would end the passivity of government in promoting cheap herbal alternatives. How wrong he was!

After 21 years, unfortunately, the law has hardly taken off – no thanks to the hostility of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), which had attempted to block its passage on the pretext that it would stall, rather than advance, medical science.

The TMA, on the other hand, has surprisingly made itself inactive – probably due to PMA pressure. Deafening is its silence vis-à-vis the foul tactics of multinational drug companies to discredit effective herbs.

The TMA has reneged on its mandate to provide the administrative framework for the protection of the herbal medicine industry.

A few local drug companies, however, have taken steps in synthesizing FDA-approved indigenous medicinal plants into tablets, capsules and syrup, such as lagundi for cough and asthma; tsaang gubat , an antispasmodic; akapulco , an anti-fungal herb; sambong , a diuretic; yerba buena , antipyretic; ampalaya , anti-diabetic; bawang (local garlic), anti-choleterolomic; bayabas (local guava); niyug-niyogan , anti-helmintic; and ulasimang bato , anti-hyperuricemic.

Had TAMA been fully implemented by TMA in collaboration with the FDA, an estimated 70 other folkloric plants would have already been approved for therapeutic uses. The vegetable malunggay , for instance, when encapsulated, still bears the FDA-required warning “no approved therapeutic claim.” And yet it sells like hotcakes simply because users find it effective against hypertension, arthritis, scabies and constipation, among others. No wonder manufacturers of “junk noodles” have decided to enrich them with malunggay .

Hard-up individuals have proven for themselves the efficacy of natural medicines.

The failure of the law to right the wrong image of traditional medicine as quackery stems from the bias of Filipino physicians for conventional Western pharmacology as taught in medical schools. Multinational drug companies, fearful of diminishing patronage, sponsor yearly foreign junkets for popular specialists who prescribe their branded drugs. Moreover, proud physicians cling to the belief that primitive medicine is obsolete in modern times. They would not have spent a decade in college if they would only end up as “glamorized herbolarios .”

On the contrary, bigger countries have extensively explored indigenous and alternative healing traditions. China has already successfully embedded hitherto questionable traditions like acupuncture and acupressure with conventional medicine.

The Office of Alternative Medicine in Washington DC has officially validated homeopathy — a medical system based on the belief that the body can cure itself using tiny amounts of natural substances.

Nutritional medicine – made up of fruits, herbs and vegetables — was the stuff that the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates (460-357 BC), prescribed to his patients.

Alas, today’s doctors who once swore by Hippocratic Oath have gone astray. ( hvego31@gmail.com / PN)

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