When shit hits the fan…

Literally and figuratively speaking, the health of the people of this nation since the turn of the millennium is now at it’s all time low. And if you were in my shoes, you’d be cursing too.

This country kicked off 2019 with a measles outbreak, followed by Dengue when the rainy season began. After 19 years, polio is back! And we’re only in the third quarter of the year! If shit didn’t hit the fan with this medical nightmare, then I don’t know how you can claim that we’ve made strides at progress in medicine. At all.

If there’s a caveat in science that people don’t understand, it’s the old adage that “prevention is more effective than cure”. Or as our elder mentors would say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

We have many factors to blame. The underpinning one rests on how the government handled the misinformation (and disinformation) campaign of Dengvaxia in 2017. True, that it’s not a perfect vaccine. Program implementation for this had lapses as well. With a frenzy media that did not know right from wrong, personalities that rode the bandwagon of sensationalism including government officials who grandstanded on this issue – the perfect storm for relegating preventive medicine to the 1900s was put in place. And we have to acknowledge the fact that there are people responsible for the stinking mess that we are in today.

Which begs answers to the question – HOW THE HELL DID WE GET TO THIS POINT?

I’ll park that issue because it’s a long discussion. And I’m sure there will be people who will play the blame game. Moving on, knowing how and why we even got to this lowest ebb in our public health program should make us realize that we need to work at how to get out of this rut before another outbreak occurs and more innocent lives are lost.

The outbreaks we’re experiencing will require a concerted effort by all sectors to work with the Department of Health at restoring vaccine confidence and averting more crisis from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The other challenge in this day and age is addressing the rise of anti-vaxxers who use social media as their platform for fomenting fear and tragedy over vaccine safety. Let’s get one fact straight – there is no perfect vaccine OR medicine for that matter. Because science is unlike a bolt or screw coming out of a factory. We are all individually different. How we respond to medicines for our illness or even how a disease evolves in each of us differ from patient to patient. As a general rule, the art and science of medicine rests on how physicians are able to weigh benefit over risk. Some may develop an allergic reaction or adverse effect to drug X, while the majority get better from it. It takes years of training and knowledge before one can master the clinical acumen at being a good physician. Unlike those who simply cut and paste information from Dr. Google, and argue based on what is drawn from their first ping on the internet, the real doctor will make sure that they first DO NO HARM in any decision that involves our road to recovery or preventing diseases from occurring.

During these outbreaks, I saw how scared parents scrambled for answers to questions on how and why their children got sick or are now seeking for vaccines to avert getting the disease. Sadly, until coming down with the illness or death hits home, these children will only remain a statistic in the battles we lose due to dubious news and rumor mongers. And we will simply be spectators to the crisis in our midst.

It is time we put all our acts together. For the sake of our children and a generation ahead. Preventing an illness is not a personal one. Preventive medicine is everyone’s business. It’s a personal responsibility not only to our family but to our neighbors, friends and nation. If there is one lesson from this chaos – POLITICS and HEALTH should never be mixed – unless you have plans of annihilating a race.

It’s embarrassing that polio has resurrected in our nation. It’s a major setback in healthcare and speaks volumes on how fragile and gullible many Filipinos are when discerning between truth and lies.

Finally, after we clean up all this shit, let’s not forget the people who are accountable in bringing us to how all this shit reeked so foul! Justice may be delayed. But justice should not be denied. For the sake of those who became simply a statistic in this charade.

Of food, food supplements and fools…

There’s been a spate of “food” and “food supplements” being advertised unethically. So, yes, this post is dedicated to the Ad Standard Council (ASC) of the Philippines, whose one and only job is to regulate and screen the advertisements we see in the country. They can’t even get that right.

Examples include the advertisements of vitamin E supplement purporting to create an “inner glow” and at that instance an element of “beautification” is taken clearly out of context. Children supposedly taking “chlorella growth factor”-laced multivitamin supplements for that extra growth spurt is another example of the spurious claims not backed by science but marketing skills hidden under the guise of “no approved therapeutic claims”. While the ASC may think that there is probably nothing brazenly wrong with some of these advertisements, the bottomline is simple. When the consumer is deceived to purchase a product whose claim is not backed by any form of science, this form of deception is ethically and morally wrong. Even if it means it is financially remunerating for the manufacturing company.

It was not until a few weeks ago when “Lola Remedios” was emblazoned all over media for the indication of “lamig“. According to a blog site, “ph.theAsianparent.com”, Dr. Randy Dellosa is quoted to interpret that “lamig” is a form of mild muscle spasm. In short, the diagnosis is based on a complex of symptoms including fatigue, pain, and numbness of certain muscle areas. This folkloric diagnosis, otherwise called “ngalay” is a tale as old as time. The recognition of “lamig and ngalay” as part of the Filipino (and Mexican) culture has propagated from generation to generation. Yet the manufacturers indirectly imply that these Tagalog words describing a symptom is therapy for these symptoms. Taken into context, it is, in actuality a therapeutic claim.

A concoction made up of ginger, honey, mint, clove, and fennel, I am not quite sure if it was really a grandmother’s recipe to start off with. While they capitalise on the ad with an old woman endorsing this as a food supplement, they also say that it is IMPORTED and distributed by a local company. As the picture depicts an elderly taking this product to the next level, they go on to claim that one doesn’t have to fear about side effects in the long term, yet place a stern precaution that it is not intended for pregnant and lactating women and those with allergy to menthol flavours. They are silent when it comes to pediatric patients (and I don’t think that it’s their market but staying silent about something yet claiming it is effective even for the elderly is dangerous stuff). So if the product is not therapeutic in nature and has issues on safety, why then place a warning?

What is most disturbing is how little the public values taking “supplements” without looking at the contents of the supplement and how dangerous this is when people are taking therapeutic agents concurrently, resulting in a drug interaction, adverse reactions, or therapeutic failure. And that’s not fair to the public.

One thing you have to hand it to this group is how good the marketing is.

The other day, Del Monte Pineapple Juice launched an ad that would top the insane. A family eating the favourite Filipino food – Lechon Kawali! After a few seconds, they zero in to pointing out the cholesterol dangers of that delicious oily fatty meat. Before you can even blink, there is Del Monte Pineapple Juice, indirectly (or directly?) available to scour all that cholesterol away!

While we understand that advertising is supposed to be an avenue for marketing and eventually selling a product, we all know that demonstrating truth in advertising is something that is wanting nowadays. That is why there is a product endorser who acts as the mascot, or there’s a weird, funny, sad, emotional, happy or phantasmagoric story line bordering on lunacy to catch the attention of the gullible consumer.

Technology and social media have practically changed detailing of a product. Whether it is ethically right or simply for profit has the lines of moral principles all blurred in this capitalistic environment. But let’s not make these marketers get their sales simply because we didn’t ask the right questions before purchasing the product.

There is a Chinese proverb that goes:

one who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question is a fool forever.

The people in the respective agencies that need to oversee the compliance of the advertisements on any form of media, should do their job. Because they are, in the end, equally accountable for this lapse by the ASC. Perhaps self-regulation is a foolish idea after all.