Envi-health group welcomes Ona appointment

Warns of multitude tasks ahead

Manila — Envi-health group Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA) welcomes the appointment of Dr. Enrique T. Ona as head of the Department of Health (DoH) and hopes that “the new Secretary will do more than his predecessor.”

According to Merci Ferrer, hopes where very high when outgoing Secretary Esperanza Cabral was appointed. “As former head of the Philippine Society of Hypertension, Cabral expressed full support to the phase-out of mercury-containing devices in health care during the 2006 Southeast Asia Mercury in Health Care Conference held in Manila. She promised the same support when she became Health Secretary.”

RP health care translates to mercury-free

In February this year, HCWH-SEA visited Cabral and gained support to six key measures to ensure that the public will be safe from mercury.

These include the immediate banning on importation of mercury-containing devices, non-issuance of permits to distributor of mercury-containing devices, more information dissemination programs on the phase-out of mercury to LGU-controlled health care units, release of 13.2M allocation for 66 DoH-retained hospitals to purchase non-mercurial devices under the 2009 General Appropriations Act (GAA), program to follow-up on the state of the more than 20 student victims of mercury poisoning in St. Andrew’s School in Paranaque in 2006, and programs to replace mercury devices in hospitals.

To date, only the non-issuance of permits to distributor of mercury-containing devices is being implemented.

“We are hopeful and very positive that Sec. Ona can continue the legacy that former Sec. Enrique Duque and Sec. Cabral have started in terms of mercury phase-out by calling for the immediate banning on importation of mercury-containing devices and other green initiatives in the health care setting,” Ferrer said.

“This is the right and urgent time for Sec. Ona to implement those measures that were left out by the two previous Secretaries.”

In 2008 under former Sec. Duque, DoH issued A.O. 21 mandating the gradual phase-out of mercury-containing devices in all health care facilities and institutions by September 2010.

“The challenge is for Secretary Ona to ensure that Philippine health care system will be free of mercury-containing devices on the 1st quarter of his tenure,” said Ferrer.

No sweat

Mercury phase-out is “no-sweat” work for Ona. “As Executive Director of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, he phased-out all mercury-containing devices by January 2010, eight months ahead of the deadline,” said Ferrer.

The deadline for the phase-out is September 11, 2010. “Seventy three days in office and we believe at least 85% of health facilities will be mercury-free with the remaining 15% near complete phase-out,” Ferrer said.

“The next crucial task is for the DoH to make sure that hospitals safely and properly store phased-out mercurial devices in their respective facilities,” Ferrer said. The DoH along with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other concerned stakeholders likewise need to look into possible intermediate storage area for phased-out devices,” Ferrer added.

Higher hopes

Beyond mercury phase-out, the group likewise reminds Ona of another environmental health issue that needs to be addressed.

“On top of the many issues, there is the impounded health budget that needs to be released to translate to services that will be felt by the people.”

Under the 2008 General Appropriations Act, the unreleased health budget includes Php 100 million for the purchase of autoclave machines for infectious medical waste treatment, the Php 400 million for the tuberculosis program and the Php 1.82 billion for family health. For 2009, the government allotted Php13.2 million for purchase of mercury-free thermometers to DoH-retained hospitals.

“We call on the new leadership to take on environmental health issues and to work on positive actions not just for health but for the environment.