“From the perspective of a community physician, the stem cell research, at this point, is not a priority. Given the daunting task of not only curing the present crop of diseases but also preventing them, and of course, building the human resource as the backbone of the health care system – these should be the priority.” — Joseph Carabeo, convenor, Rx Abolish Pork Barrel Movement
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Eleazar Sobinsky, president of the Lung Center of the Philippines Employees Association-Alliance of Health Workers cannot decipher how the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) has helped the poor. Of the P115 million ($263,822) DAP funds received by LCP, P70 million ($160,587) was spent for the stem cell research project and the rest was spent for the procurement of equipment.
He said if the DAP has helped the poor, why are there more indigent patients waiting in line at the LCP’s out-patient department?
Joseph Carabeo, convenor of the Rx Abolish Pork Barrel Movement and a community doctor for the past 28 years, said that the stem cell research project does not even help solve the longtime health problems of Filipinos.
“The stem cell research in LCP is a mispriority,” said Carabeo in an interview with Bulatlat.com. “There are many problems in the health sector that has to be addressed. We think, the DOH is merely riding the bandwagon on the stem cell research intervention in health care, wellness and primarily rejuvenation,” Carabeo said.
Stem cells according to www.stemcellnetwork.ca are the “precursors of all cells in the human body.”
“Stem cells are very special, powerful cells found in both humans and non-human animals. They have been called the centerpiece of regenerative medicine – medicine that involves growing new cells, tissues and organs to replace or repair those damaged by injury, disease or aging,” the website said.
In the Philippines, Carabeo said, the medical community is not even united in the use of stem cell therapy in curing diseases. He said it is still under research in the Philippines. The Philippine Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism (PSEM) for one has even warned the public on the use of stem cell therapy as treatment for diabetes.
“There is no cure for diabetes mellitus and that at the moment stem cell therapy is an experimental treatment for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. There is as yet, no conclusive evidence that stem cell therapy is effective and safe for diabetes,” said the PSEM.
The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) also said, “Being a novel – with possible breakthrough – medical option despite absence of long-term survival benefits at present, certain questions should be asked by the public before considering or accepting stem cell therapy.”
The PMA cited cases of clinical trials that did not show significant outcome. “For example, recent reviews of clinical trials of stem cell therapy for heart attacks and ischemic heart disease restoration reported that less than half of the trials found only ‘small improvements in cardiac function.’”
Meanwhile, stem cell therapy is more popular in its ability to rejuvenate. It is usually the wealthy, aging adults who seek stem cell therapy. A Philippine Daily Inquirer report said that one session of stem cell therapy is worth $12,500 to $18,000. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and deposed President Joseph Estrada have reportedly undergone stem cell therapy treatment.
Not a priority
In a news report, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said stem cell research is “aimed at harnessing stem cell research and technology to reconstruct new health cells, replacing cancer or dead cells.” Ona said that with the stem cell research, he is “looking at preventive, promotive, curative and even rehabilitation needs of the entire health sector.”
Carabeo, however, said that before the government goes into stem cell research, it is important to first address the urgent problems of public health personnel. He said health workers and professionals who deliver services are the backbone of a quality health care.
Government should “heed the cry of the health personnel,” said Carabeo. “How can they give the proper health care, the compassion, the quality service if they feel that they are not being cared for? They are in a very, very difficult situation in the country’s government hospitals.”
Carabeo added that in tertiary hospitals like the Philippine Heart Center, many indigent patients are still waiting in line for cardiac surgery interventions. “The state of the art dialysis center in the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI) is not even made accessible to the poor. There is even a bad trend of selling kidneys among the poor.”
Carabeo said the health promotive and preventive practices in the country is still lacking. “Dengue is still uncontrollable and worse is that it is not only seasonal because every month there are cases of dengue. Malaria is still uncontrollable. Leptospirosis – even if that is not in the DOH’s ambit – could use a definitive health intervention, through fixing the sewerage and flooding system in the urban areas.”
He added that although there is a vaccine against cervical cancer, poor patients still do not have access to it. “It is not even part of the vaccines given in health centers. It is not even for free.”
He also said that even the National Institute for Health does not see stem cell as a priority.
While Carabeo admitted that he is not privy to what and where the research is heading to, but on the onset, he said, it does not respond to the immediate needs of the poor majority. As a community doctor, he said he does not see an impact of such research that will serve the interest of the public.
“From the perspective of a community physician, the stem cell research, at this point, is not a priority. Given the daunting task of not only curing the present crop of diseases but also preventing them, and of course, building the human resource as the backbone of the health care system – it is these that should be prioritized. For me, stem cell miserably fails to respond to the urgent needs of the present health care conditions.”