AMPALAYA 'DOWNGRADING' TRACED TO DRUGS LOBBY

MANILA, September 8, 2003  (MALAYA) Two congressmen who are medical doctors accused yesterday Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit of giving in to a powerful lobby by big pharmaceutical companies to kill ampalaya or bitter melon as an alternative herbal cure for diabetes.

Reps. Arthur Pingoy (NPC, South Cotabato) and Celia Layus (NPC, Cagayan) said the order of Dayrit to re-classify "ampalaya" from a "scientific" herbal medicine to a "folkloric" herbal cure invites suspicion of a conspiracy between the DOH and multinational firms to undermine its efficacy.

Pingoy noted that since 1995 during the watch of Sen. Juan Flavier as health secretary, ampalaya was among the nine medicinal plants that were scientifically validated as alternative medicines.

He said it was from this validation that the alternative medicine industry led by ampalaya-based food supplements experienced a boon and later grew into a P700 million a year business, eating up 26 percent of the market.

Currently, there are 15 brands of ampalaya pills and capsules in the market.

Pingoy said this could be the reason big drug companies are getting restless over their shrinking profits because of "ampalaya" competition.

A circular issued by Dayrit has effectively delisted "ampalaya" as a "safe and scientifically-proven alternative medicine against diabetes. The new circular effectively amended the circular issued by Flavier on the efficacy of "ampalaya" as an alternative herbal medicine.

The South Cotabato congressman said Congress should look into the new order which he said reeks of collusion between Dayrit and the big drugs firms.

"In effect, what Dayrit is saying is that all the previous health secretaries were principals of a conspiracy to promote ampalaya as a medicinal herb," Layus said.

The lawmakers said they have information on the groups and personalities who have lobbied for the "killing" of ampalaya as a herbal medicine and their identities would be revealed during the House hearing on the matter.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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