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'Health nightmare'.

Disturbing facts are slowly coming out in the light of day from the on-going legislative inquiry by the Senate on the questioned dengvaxia vaccination program. The controversial haste by which this anti-dengue vaccination program was carried out during the previous leaderships at the Department of Health (DOH) figured again prominently at the continuation of the Senate public hearing last Monday.

Jointly conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon and the Senate committee on health and demography chaired by Sen.

JV Ejercito, the fourth public hearing on the dengvaxia program brought back into question the possible culpability of former government officials responsible for its implementation.Dengvaxia is the brand name of the vaccine manufactured by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, which in November last year publicly admitted that it could cause a severe type of dengue for those who have not yet previously contracted the disease.

Implemented during the last two years of the administration of former President Benigno "P-Noy" Aquino III, the two successive DOH secretaries, doctors Enrique Ona and Janette Garin pointed accusing fingers at each other. But Ona got to shift the burden squarely to both P-Noy and Garin.

This after Ona was able to air his side when he finally appeared at the Senate hearing for the first time. During the last Senate public hearing on Dec.

14, both P-Noy and Garin told the Senators their respective versions that Ona was among those who recommended the conduct of anti-dengue vaccination.Breaking his silence on the dengvaxia controversy, P-Noy accepted the Senate invitation to shed light on the alleged "hasty" vaccine procurement.

Ona at that time, however, was still abroad.element-invisibleOpinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1In his sworn testimony, P-Noy merely justified his administration's decision to carry out the dengvaxia vaccination program even as the supposed anti-dengue cure was yet to pass further tests.

In justifying the need to protect people from dengue, Mr. Aquino recalled a few months after he assumed office in 2010 that then health secretary Ona presented to him what appeared as alarming report on the surge of dengue cases nationwide.

In Ona's supposed memo, P-Noy claimed, dengue cases increased by 100 percent in Regions 3 and 5 and 1,409.5 percent in Region 8. According to P-Noy, Ona purportedly also reported that various pharmaceutical companies were still developing and testing dengue vaccines.

From what he understood when dengvaxia came out in the market during the time of former Congresswoman Garin who replaced Ona in 2015, the local and international processes had already been completed before the vaccines were marketed.In a press conference after the Senate hearing, Mr.

Aquino averred: "It was incumbent upon us to be able to look for systems, procedures, means to protect the people. And around that time, the vaccine, good for all four strains, was being developed and nearing completion of all the steps before it could be made available for everybody.

"More than 800,000 public elementary schoolchildren aged nine years old and above were administered with free anti-dengue shots even as dengvaxia was still undergoing test stage.In so many words typical of Mr.

Aquino's verbose he allowed Filipino children to become lab rats to an experiment of the dengvaxia vaccine.The possibility of procuring the vaccines from Sanofi was first raised during P-Noy's meeting with its executives on the sidelines of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in November 2014, and then in Paris in December 2015 on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP 21, both of which he attended.

He remembered the 2014 meeting was coursed through the DOH then headed by Ona. At that time, Sanofi vaccine was being produced and tested at the same time in other countries.

The P3.5 billion for the vaccine was requested following the December meeting in Paris, P-Noy admitted.P-Noy further admitted the funds were not specifically mentioned in the 2015 national budget but savings were realigned from the Miscellaneous Personnel and Benefits Fund in the budget.

Upon questioning from Sen. Ejercito, P-Noy pointed to a need to both rush the registration of the vaccine with the Food and Drug Administration and the national formulary and the search for fund as his term was about to end and the dengue situation was critical.

As once again highlighted at the resumption of the Senate public hearings last Monday, the DOH officials' admissions on who should be held accountable became clearer by the day. By their own sworn testimonies, Garin and later her former subordinate health undersecretary Paulyn Ubial who later succeeded her as DOH Secretary undertook the anti-dengue vaccination program on large-scale basis.

What further placed the vaccination program under suspicions was the fact the DOH implemented it in unprecedented speed starting in April 2016 or just a month before the presidential elections. Senators led by Ejercito and Sherwin Gachalian and Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III all noted with concern this was not very typical of government procurement period that after being included in the DOH vaccination program, the first batch of dengvaxia was signed, sealed and delivered all in a span of nine months.

Sen. Gordon, in exasperation, rued how the DOH procurement system has literally gone to the dogs.

The late DOH Secretary-turned Senator Juan Flavier, Gordon cited, would not have sacrificed the government's public health program before the altar of politics.I can only echo the sentiments of my fellow STAR business columnist Boo Chanco who, in his column last month, suggested that P-Noy, along with Garin and Ubial, take dengvaxia shots themselves.

If it is any consolation to the schoolchildren they placed in this "health nightmare," as Ona described it, Sanofi executive Thomas Triomphe gave assurances of their pharma firm's readiness to answer for deaths proven to be caused by their dengvaxia vaccine.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Date:Jan 23, 2018
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