DOH to ban mercury importation

Following movements to ban mercury globally, the Department of Health on Friday said that it will ask for the banning on importation of mercury products in the country.

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral in a meeting with environmental health group, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA) identified other measures to ensure that the public will be safe from mercury.

1: No more mercury permits

According to Cabral, since Administrative Order (AO) 21was implemented in September 2008, the DoH is no longer giving permits to medical devices distributors to sell mercury thermometers. The program will be escalated to include mercury sphygmomanometers.

Prior to AO 21, all hospitals have a one-is-to-one policy on mercurial thermometers. This means that every patient admitted or discharged in a hospital is entitled to one mercurial thermometer. In 2007, one 300 bed hospital distributed 10,000 mercurial thermometers in just a year.

2: AO 21 to reach local health units

The DoH likewise said that they will promote and disseminate AO 21 to the local government units (LGUs) who are managing the barangay health units, rural health units, city heath and municipal, district and provincial hospitals.

In the regional conferences organized by HCWH-SEA and DoH Center for Health Development (CHD), majority of LGU-run hospitals and health centers said that they are unaware of AO 21.

In the conference for CALABARZON region, several health units raised the issue of involving the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the implementation of AO 21 citing that they are directly under the Department and that funding must also be supported by the LGUs.

3: Mercury-free budget

To further speed-up AO 21 implementation, Cabral said that they will look into the 2009 General Appropriations Act (GAA) 13.2 M allocation for 66 government-run hospitals to purchase non-mercurial devices and have it released at the soonest possible time.

In 2008, HCWH-SEA together with Social Watch’s Alternative Budget Initiative for health lobbied for additional environmental health allocations in the DoH budget. This however remains unreleased.

4: Beyond health care

Cabral likewise expressed that DoH will set-up a 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.

Earlier, one of the victims who is now suffering advanced stage of Parkinsonism and nerve damage filed a 6M civil case against the school. While the other victims have stopped chelation therapy to remove mercury from their system, it is unclear whet her they have been cleared by the hospital.

5: More alternatives

Cabral also pronounced that the DoH will continue the program to replace mercury devices in hospitals.

To further strengthen this, Cabral signed the Green Health Covenant which calls for the health sector and other individuals to call on their candidates to support mercury phase-out in the country and other green health care agenda such as proper heath care waste management leading to zero waste, chemical safety in health care and a health care responsive to climate change.

The Green Health Covenant now has more than 900 signatures from health care facilities in Regions 1, 2, 4A and online signatories.

6: Ban mercury importation

The next logical step to mercury phase-out: ban mercury.

DoH said they will ask for the banning of importation of mercury products.This will prevent entry of mercury devices in the Philippine market.

HCWH is an international coalition of more than 470 organizations in 52 countries, working to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. PIA

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