February 21, 2018, 1:00 pm
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Clashing opinions

THE nationwide, even international, controversy generated by the clarification made by multinational pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur about the efficacy of its dengue vaccine Dengvaxia has triggered a volley of near acrimonious arguments and debates.

This is something to be expected, especially in our politically charged environment.

Every sector, every official -- from health, legislature, justice, budget and management, Malacañang, media, NGOs, crime watch advocates, lawyers -- has something to say on the dengue vaccine issue.

Let us sift through the mess and try to make sense of this scandal.

The present Department of Health (DOH) under the helm of Dr. Francisco Duque III did the right thing in ordering an investigation into the problem, scheduling a conference with the drug manufacturer and experts from the World Health Organization, and sweeping its own house for whoever is accountable.

Meanwhile, it has become harder and harder to believe explanations made by former health secretary Jeanette Garin and Sanofi officials that the vaccine is beneficial to Filipinos and thus necessitated a huge, bulk purchase.

Another former health secretary, Paulyn Ubial, provided a rather reasonable explanation, telling critics that the DOH should not be faulted for its decision to use the vaccine in its anti-dengue program.

Ubial’s take appeals to reason in a scientific way. While she sees some indelicacy in spending P3.5 billion for the vaccine early in an election year, she stressed that “we make decisions on current available data so its introduction in 2016 was recommended based on data available at that time.”

Ubial noted that science is dynamic, not static, and that we cannot criticize decisions based on today’s discoveries. “There are many discoveries before that were said to be good for health then became bad for health. For example, eggs, virgin coconut oil, MSG.”

While true, this explanation does not wholly relieve the previous DOH, Department of the Budget and Management and even Malacañang itself under President Benigno Aquino III of responsibility for the questionable purchase.

As the present DBM under Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno reviews this P3.5 billion medicine purchase, initial reports point to certain irregularities in the sourcing of funds for the vaccine.

The National Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, and the DBM should work together, even before the Senate joins in the probe, to ascertain some basic things on this issue so that the process of restitution, if needed, may be hastened.
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