Envi-health group pushes for stronger mercury policy

Stockholm, Sweden — As the world’s government gathers to negotiate on a mercury treaty, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA) calls on the Philippine government to “put teeth into the Health Department’s AO 21” by ordering immediate importation ban on mercury.

Administrative Order 21 which mandates the gradual phase-out of all mercury-containing devices in all Philippine health care facilities and institutions by September 2010 “needs not just teeth, but claws as well, to make it work,” says Faye Ferrer, HCWH-SEA Program Officer for Mercury in Health Care, at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to Prepare a Global Legally Binding Instrument on Mercury (INC1) in Stockholm, Sweden.

“While the Philippines is leading in terms of having a national policy on mercury phase-out in health care, we are lacking in implementation,” Ferrer pointed out. “The Department of Health (DoH) is targeting 100% mercury phase-out in the DoH-retained hospitals by September but there are 1,851 hospitals all over the country, not to mention the rural health units and other small health facilities controlled by the local government.”

Barely three months into the DoH imposed deadline, several facilities are still at a lost of where to source funding for mercury alternatives. “Funding is already allocated but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has yet to release it,” says Ferrer.

Mercurial thermometers and sphygmomanometers are still readily available in big and small drugstores operating in the country. Another concern raised by those already phasing-out mercurial devices is on the longer disposal area for phased-out devices. 

Towards the tipping point

Just in time for the INC1 meeting, HCWH and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a two-year progress report on the Global Mercury-Free Health Care Initiative. The report highlights the mercury phase-out and substitution happening around the globe as well the national policies being enacted by different governments.

The global initiative aims to phase-out the demand for mercury-containing fever thermometers and sphygmomanometers by at least 70% and to shift the production of these mercury-containing devices to accurate, affordable and safer non-mercury alternatives.

According to the report, “momentum is growing and mercury-free health care is increasingly becoming the status quo in many countries. The Global Initiative is moving closer to a tipping point that will shift the dynamics of supply and demand in the global thermometer and blood pressure device markets away from mercury and towards the alternatives.”

To view Toward the tipping point .

Health care without mercury treaty

When government leaders are pushing for mercury phase-out around the globe thru a treaty, HCWH, International Council of Nurses, World Federation of Public Health Associations and Doctors for the Environment are calling on the health sector to lead the way in mercury phase-out.

The group of health workers aims to make sure that the treaty being negotiated will protect human health and the global environment, supports a transformation to a mercury-free health care, and promotes health by phasing-out a broad spectrum of mercury-related activities and products—restrict the global flow of mercury, phase-out mercury use and emissions and foster alternatives to mercury.

To view the Health Sector's Platform for INC1.