SARS: GOVT ACTS ON MASKS, VITAMIN C SHORTAGE

Manila, April 30, 2003 -- The Department of Trade and Industry is studying 
the prospects of lowering tariffs on surgical masks even as it ordered the 
Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) to import on behalf of local 
drug manufacturers Vitamin C inputs following the 400-percent surge in the 
prices of the supplement in the world market.

The twin intervention was announced by Trade Secretary Mar Roxas in the 
wake of shortage of N95 8210 industrial masks, the World Health 
Organization-recommended masks for health workers, manufactured only by 3M 
in the United States.

But Roxas said 3M has agreed to increase its allocation for the Philippines 
which now accounts for 5 percent of its worldwide production, and has 
stepped up its N95 production to three shifts a day until May to meet demand.

Surgical masks are now slapped a 10 percent tariff.

Roxas also announced he has instructed the PITC to import Vitamin C raw 
materials for the drug firms using government funds as an interim measure 
to cushion the 300 to 400 percent price increase of ascorbic acid in its 
raw form in the world market. In return, these pharmaceutical firms and 
drugstores have committed not to increase their prices.

Edwin Isaac of the Filipino Drug Association said the 400-percent increase 
could still be absorbed by local drugmakers. Vitamin C can be had at a 
range of P1 to P35 per tablet, depending on the brand.

With the shortage of N95 masks, the WHO is now testing another type of 
mask, the P2 standard, for health workers.

Roxas said in view of the shortage, priority will be given to health 
workers in buying in bulk N95 masks available only at medical supply stores 
wholesale (P70 per piece at 20 units per box). (Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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