Ona: health secretary after me is ‘solely responsible’ for Philippine's major 'health nightmare'

Sec. Garin and Ona / Photo file (ctto)
Manila, Philippines -Few days after former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin said that the dengue vaccine purchase is not her decision alone, her predecessor, Dr. Enrique Ona, finally issued his statement and broke his silence.

According to Dr. Ona, the health secretary after his term is the “solely responsible” for the Philippine’s current nightmare.

Dr. Ona was DOH Secretary from June 2010 to December 2014, followed by Garin when Aquino administration took over.

 “In the light of the Sanofi Pasteur advisory on the use of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, the leadership that took over the DOH after I left on December 20, 2014 is solely responsible for all the decisions that have resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today,” Dr. Ona said in a statement.

Ona explained that there were talks about the vaccine during his term, but;

“During this period, the Sanofi Pasteur Pharma group would request a briefing for me on the status of the clinical trial of their anti-dengue vaccine being tested (phase 3 trial) in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, as well as several countries in South America. This occurred almost annually during my term as Secretary,” he said.

He also shared that he was then hopeful hearing that vaccine for dengue has been finally developed.

“This was of great interest to me since dengue fever is not only rampant in the Philippines, almost appearing all year round and was also being used as one of the ‘measures of our public health performance’ by the public. I had high hopes, like many others that the vaccine being developed would eventually control this mosquito-borne disease that afflicts more than a hundred thousand Filipinos (patients) annually and scares so many foreign visitors and tourists,” the former health chief said.

He added that, during his term until he left the office, Sanofi never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use of the public. The pharmaceutical company only gave him vague projection as to when it may be ready for launching.

“Unfortunately, during all this time until the end of my term, the Sanofi staff, though optimistic, never claimed that the vaccine was ready for general use and only gave vague projection to me of the time when it may be ready for launching. I recall in more than one occasion that I mentioned in passing to then President Aquino of a possible dengue vaccine that may be ready ‘anytime soon.’ However, we did not allocate any budget for dengue vaccine for 2016 since I considered this vaccine as still at its ‘developmental stage’ and was undergoing further observation and evaluation,” Ona said.

Ona clarified that he was no longer the secretary when the department administered the dengue vaccine.

“I was out of the government in 2016 when I first heard that the DOH was going to purchase this new Sanofi Pasteur dengue vaccine, now with a brand name Dengvaxia, to be given to children above nine years and allocating ‘several billion’ pesos, an amount more than the entire budget for all other vaccines being procured by the DOH annually!” he said.

On November 30, Sanofi revealed that Dengvaxia was found to possibly cause more severe cases of dengue.

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