Duterte backs FDA thrusts

Duterte backs FDA thrusts

It looks like the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) remains as the only agency in the government health sector that can weather the onslaught of controversies. It will be recalled that the Department of Health (DoH), the mother agency, has been besieged with issues which held the confirmation of Secretary Paulyn Ubial by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) hostage. 

The DoH head appeared to be highly vulnerable to controversies, highlighted by what CA solons branded as “flip-flopping” on major issues, including the dengue vaccine scandal.

Ubial was even linked to the Maute terrorist group by her detractors. This and the other hot issues she faced may have caused President Duterte to distance himself from the beleaguered Ubial.

PhilHealth, the other high-profile health sector agency, was similarly rocked by controversies. Its head resigned in the wake of a reported serious spat with Ubial herself over personnel movements and appointments.

The FDA remains a bright spot in this sector and reportedly enjoys the full backing of Duterte as the said agency goes all-out in the pursuit of its mandate.

Last year, Duterte appointed Nela Charade Puno to head this agency which earned a previous reputation as a helpless and useless.

That negative image was apparently caused by the inability by its past leadership to protect the public from risks posed by fake and unregistered beauty and health products in the market.

We remember the endless litany of excuses from these officials who resorted to blaming the lack of funds for their failure to curb the spread of dangerous products.

The other complaint against the FDA in the past had been the miserably slow-paced approval process for the registration of products under the agency’s regulation.

No wonder, impatient product developers and inventors probably just opted to go to the black market rather than to wait forever for the FDA of the past to act on their applications.

It looks like things have changed. The public has been pleasantly surprised by the developments in the FDA recently,

Based on media reports, the FDA under Puno has already confiscated millions worth of illegal cosmetic, drugs and health products in the black market, just on her first year in office. What is interesting here is that the public has never heard Puno complain about FDA’s lack of budget for law enforcement.

It seems Duterte’s choice for the FDA is more resourceful than her predecessors. Instead of lamenting her agency’s limitations, Puno tapped the Philippine National Police (PNP) to help her clean up the black market for fake and unregistered products.

Despite limited funding for her agency, Puno also managed to streamline the FDA approval processes. Last we heard, product applicants now have the chance of getting a clear response from the FDA within 72 hours.

This is unheard of. This definitely boosts the Duterte government’s promise to improve the ease of doing business in the country.

The biggest gains, however, seems to be in law enforcement. Puno’s partnership with the PNP appears to have paid off.

In less than a year, the FDA and the PNP have seized millions worth of illegal food products, and unregistered or fake drugs, medicines, cosmetics and medical devices.

It has also padlocked nearly a hundred establishments operating without licenses and selling products that do not have the required FDA certificate of registration.

We can understand why among the public health sector agencies, it is the FDA that has gotten the full backing of Duterte.

It is one agency that has not given the President a headache. Duterte has appointed a no-complaining-all-business executive to run it.

Here is a line agency head that uses resourcefulness and creativity to solve problems.

FDA’s good fortune is Duterte had named a head that has private sector experience. The President reportedly resisted pressure from various quarters to do what his predecessors did – appoint a medical practitioner who does not have managerial capabilities.

Puno’s other advantage is that she is a pharmacist. That means she understands both the processes of manufacturing and registering. It is difficult to give someone like that the run-around.

Sources say Puno has had to face much opposition to the internal reforms she has put in place. Ironically, some of these came from the very people who should be supporting her.

The lesson here is that the most important support comes from two sources: the President and a delighted public. Once, you have both, there is no way the opposition to reforms could win.



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