Representatives from government, non-government organizations, private and academic sectors gathered in a roundtable discussion entitled: “Strengthening the Science-Based Herbal Industry in the Philippines: Issues, Challenges and Solutions” organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) last February 15, 2012 at the Traders Hotel in Manila.

Existing Initiatives

Dr. Francis Vicente S. Ras, Education and Promotion Officer V of the Philippine Institute for Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) shared the efforts of the Institute in developing herbal products. PITAHC is a government program set up in 1997 by the Department of Health (DOH) to accelerate the development of traditional and alternative health care in the country. Today, PITAHC manages four herbal processing plants in Cagayan, Leyte, Cotabato and Davao which are able to produce marketable herbal products, namely: lagundi tablet and syrup for cough and asthma, sambong tablet as anti-urolithiasis, tsaang gubat tablet as anti-colic or anti-spasmodic and herbal soaps from akapulko, cucumber, raddish, kamias, calamansi, guava, carrot and papaya.

Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST) presented the government roadmap for the development of science-based herbal products for health and wellness. He said that part of PCHRD’s drug discovery and development program includes the utilization of natural substances from terrestrial and marine sources that can be developed up to the pre-clinical stage for common infectious diseases and lifestyle-related disorders.

Dr. Gemiliano D. Aligui, President of Asian Foundation for Tropical Medicine, Inc. discussed two existing administrative orders which refer to confidence and public trust on herbal products. The A.O 184 s2004 refers to guidelines on the registration of traditionally-used herbal products while A.O. 172 s2004 indicates guidelines on the registration of herbal medicines. The A.O 184 s2004 limits the folkloric use of herbal medicines because this law requires manufacturers to state in the label any of the following statements applicable: 1) “The Traditional application/use of this product has not been evaluated by the Philippine Food & Drugs Administration”; 2) “If symptoms persist, consult your doctor”; or 3) “Not allowed for use in pregnant, lactating mothers, and children below 18 years.” On the other hand, the A.O. 172 s2004 establishes the clinical efficacy of herbal medicine because it subjects the manufacturer to report findings of the study from Galenical (Phase I) up to clinical trials (Phase III) of the herbal drugs prior to public use. It further states that herbal drugs should be validated by the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP) of the PCHRD-DOST or other competent research centers accredited and approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Identified Challenges

Dr. Rainier B. Villanueva, Founding President of the Chamber of Herbal Industries of the Philippines, Inc. reported the issues and challenges of the natural product industry from the perspective of industry and the private sector. According to him, the herbal industry is confronting the following challenges: (1) lack of scientific claims to support product claims; (2) outdated policies of FDA on product registration; (3) no standardization of natural ingredients; (4) unscrupulous businessmen taking advantage of the popularity of natural and organic products by making claims at the expense of the consumers; (5) lack of integrated, inter-agency programs by the government to strengthen the industry like what China, Malaysia  and India are doing; (6) minimal implementation of good agricultural practices among the agriculture sector; (7) no clearing house or centralization of government-funded R&D studies; and (8) lack of laboratory dedicated to the natural product industry.

Dr. Lourdes B. Cardenas, faculty member of the Plant Biology Division of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) tackled the issues relating to quality of raw materials for use in herbal products. According to her research, the following are needed to be subjected under quality control in order to address raw material and processing quality issues: (1) source material which refers to the correct variety, species, chemotype, ecotype, and part and stage development of the plant to be processed; (2) cultivation of the plant species; (3) post harvest handling; (4) storage (5) residues, heavy metals and microbial contamination; and (6) security of raw materials to radioactive isotopes.

Ms. Irene M. Villaseñor, faculty member of the Institute of Chemistry of the University of the Philippines Diliman identified the following issues on establishing quality parameters for herbal products: (1) patent protection; (2) data on chemical identity, purity and consistency; (3) information related to absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination of drug metabolites; and (4) chemical standardization.



Proposed Solutions

Stakeholders came up with the following possible interventions to address the identified challenges and improve existing initiatives: 1) partnership among research institutes and organizations to generate more scientific evidences to substantiate and validate claims of natural products and ingredients; 2) technology transfer for sustainable organic farming and propagation; 3) acquisition and use of appropriate equipment and machinery to boost industry capacities; 4) provision of assistance to institutions in attaining various certifications accepted and recognized by international market; 5) investments in the development of natural products and ingredients industries; 6) promotion and distribution of  Philippine products in the foreign market through collaboration between Filipino and Filipino-foreign entrepreneurs and businessmen; 7) capacity building for experts in the field of Medicinal Chemistry; and 8) establishment of centralized facilities for R&D studies.

BIHC-DOH Director Maylene Beltran tackles Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria

In a scientific conference during the 14th National Institutes of Health (NIH) anniversary, Director Maylene M. Beltran of the Bureau of International Health Cooperation of the Department of Health (BIHC-DOH) and the Executive Secretary of the Philippine Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCM) emphasized the importance of Global Fund (GF) initiative for AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) to support the Kalusugan Pangkalahatan (KP) program of the Aquino administration.

“Where does GF fit into our national health goal Kalusugan Pangkalahatan? Among the health-related goals of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) incorporated to KP is to improve maternal and child health and to halt the spread of communicable diseases like AIDS, TB and Malaria,” said Ms. Beltran.

In the 2010 United Nations programme report on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Ms. Beltran cited that the Philippines is one of only seven countries with 25% increase in HIV cases from 2001-2009 and an average of six (6) new HIV cases per day or one (1) in every four (4) hours is reported in the country. In 2011, 64% of registered HIV cases came from National Capital Region (54%).

The DOH National AIDS and STI Prevention and Control Program (NASPCP) covers the Most-at-Risk Populations (MARPS) which include the freelance sex workers (FSW), men having sex with men (MSM), male sex workers (MSW), and persons who inject drugs (PWID), with a total MARPS of 177,597.

She added that HIV transmission among persons who inject drugs (PWIDs) is rapidly increasing from just seven reported cases in the last 22 years (1984-2006) to 147 cases in 2010 alone.

Ms. Beltran stressed, “Nationwide, we need an estimated total investment of 18.4 billion pesos for 2011-2016. In a year, we need 1.6 billion just to be able to address the MARPS.”

Given these scenario, Ms. Beltran explained how GFATM would be a great help in addressing the country’s concerns on AIDS, TB and Malaria.

The Global Fund is a unique global public/private partnership dedicated to attracting and disbursing additional resources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  It is a financial mechanism to provide funds to critical interventions against the three diseases.

The Philippines is one of the 20 countries in East Asia and the Pacific availing of the global fund opportunity.

GFATM promotes partnership among stakeholders through the Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCM). These country-level multi-stakeholder partnerships develop and submit grant proposals to the Global Fund based on priority needs at the national level. After grant approval, GF oversee progress during implementation.

CCM include representatives from both the public and private sectors, including governments, multilateral or bilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, private businesses and people living with the diseases.

Ms. Beltran reported that in the Philippines, there are three principal recipients (PR) of the GF: The Pilipinas Shell Foundation – PR for Malaria grant; DOH – PR for HIV grant, and Philippine Business for Social Progress – PR for TB grant.

Get vaccinated now (photo grabbed from wikinoticia)

“Have you been vaccinated for Hepatitis B? Have you been infected with Hepatitis B before and now immuned to the disease?  If you are not sure with your answer, consult your doctor now and be checked for hepatitis B infection,” warns Dr. Jane Campos, Liver and Gastrointestinal Disease Specialist during the general assembly of the Yellow Warriors Society in Quezon City last 18 February 2012.

“Today, there are 16 million Hepatitis B carriers. You may be the next carrier if you will not protect yourself with Hepatitis B vaccination,” said Dr. Campos.

The Philippines is one of the highly endemic areas for Hepatitis B wherein 12% to 16% of the population is infected with the disease. The increasing number of infection is worsened by Hepatitis B carriers that are unaware that they may transfer the disease to family members.

“That is why it is important to visit your doctor and be checked for Hepatitis B. If you are not infected, consider yourself lucky and get hepatitis B vaccination now,” emphasized Dr. Campos.

“If you are aware that you are a Hepatitis B carrier, this is a significant step – to make necessary actions. These include protecting family members against future Hepatitis B infections by consulting with experts about disease screening and undergoing medications or treatments depending on doctor’s assessment to avoid complications such as liver cancer and cirrhosis,” explained Dr. Campos.

“Why put yourself at risk if the disease can be prevented? Remember, prevention is far better than treatment.” Dr. Campos also stressed that there is no complete cure for the disease. Although there are available medicines for treatment, it has no guarantee to cure the disease. Treatments only reduce the progression of the disease by slowing down the virus to prevent further Hepatitis B complications.

“Treatment for hepatitis B is a life-long and tedious experience. Aside from physiological discomfort in undergoing regular medications, the cost of healthcare is also a burden to patients,” added Dr. Campos.

Hepatitis B vaccine, however, will cost only around Php800-1200 pesos per shot. “So get vaccinated now and be protected against the disease.”


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Liver care: A healthy lifestyle for Hepatitis B patients
Liver care. (photo grabbed from

“People with chronic hepatitis B should make lifestyle choices that will help them live healthy,” said Dr. Eternity Labio, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist during the General Assembly of the Yellow Warriors Society of the Philippines last 18 February 2012.

During her lecture, Dr. Labio emphasized the importance of having a healthy lifestyle among Hepatitis B patients to give their livers a break – a chance to heal, a chance to rebuild and a chance for new liver cells to grow.

Healthy lifestyle means avoiding bad habits that can directly affect the liver. This includes drinking alcohol, smoking and exposure to environmental pollutants such as fumes from paints and other aerosols.

The liver is the second largest organ of the body.  It plays a vital role in regulating life processes. It refines and detoxifies everything a person eats, breathes, and absorbs through the skin. It helps digest food and absorbs important nutrients, neutralizes and destroys poisonous substances and helps the body resist infections.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Whenever the liver is inflamed or damaged, its functions are directly affected. “Thus, Hepatitis B patients must double the effort to stay healthy by avoiding everything that damages the liver. There is no special diet for chronic hepatitis B, but good nutrition in the form of a balanced diet may help liver cells to regenerate. Proper nutrition is an essential part of treatment,” explained Dr. Labio.

Meanwhile, the Hepatitis Foundation International warns Hepatitis B patients to be watchful on protein and calories intake. Too much daily protein may cause hepatic encephalopathy. This will occur when the amount of dietary protein is greater than the liver’s ability to use the protein. Excess calories in the form of carbohydrates, on the other hand, can also add liver dysfunctions and can cause fat deposits in the liver.

“With proper nutrition or balanced diet, regular exercises, enough rest, regular consultation with experts as well as good attitude and prayers – the burden of the disease will be alleviated, giving patients hope that life must go on,” said Dr. Labio.

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To track health researches, the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST) is developing the Philippine Health Research Registry (PHRR), a publicly accessible database for all health researches and clinical trials being conducted in the country.

The defining feature of the registry is that it is prospective, researchers themselves register and update their research information, hence research details will be known even before the start of actual research. This will enable researchers, funding agencies, policymakers and planners to track health researches. Thus, duplication of researches will be avoided and allocative efficiency for health research funding will be improved.

The registry also conforms to the World Health Organization (WHO) - mandated clinical trial data field requirements. This is a 20-minimum data fields accessible to all levels of users. This feature will ensure equal opportunity for everyone who wants to participate in clinical trials and help companies recruit the most number of patients in a shorter period of time.

Part of the data field requirements is the inclusion of universal identification and secondary identification numbers that will serve as identifier for every clinical trial registered and conducted in different countries. According to Dr. Manju Rani of the WHO, this feature is very important to account clinical trials from different countries as part of the ASEAN Harmonization for GCP (Good Clinical Practices) and the ASEAN Network for Clinical Trials.

To encourage registration to PHRR, the Philippine National Health Research System (PNHRS) core agencies composed of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Health (DOH), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila) will come up with a policy making registration to PHRR a pre-requisite to the release of funding for health R&D projects funded by these agencies.