Why Customs held HIV medicine

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 04 2014 12:22 AM | Updated as of Sep 04 2014 08:23 AM

MANILA - After a month of being held by the Bureau of Customs (BOC), almost 1,000 boxes of antiretroviral drugs for people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may soon be released.

The Department of Health (DOH) filed the required documents to secure the release of the medicines on Wednesday, a month after the first shipment arrived.

Records from the BOC show that the first shipment from UNICEF in Denmark arrived in the Philippines on August 2, and the second, on August 14.

“They are filing the import entry only now as we speak,” BOC spokesperson Charo Logarta told ABS-CBN News on Wednesday afternoon. “And as we all know, we cannot begin jurisdiction over any importation or any shipment until the importer, consignee, or legal representatives has filed the import entry and submitted other documents.”

Aside from filing documents, the DOH will also have to pay importation taxes of over P5 million.

Groups of people living with HIV earlier expressed worry over a possible shortage of antiretroviral drugs if the shipments are not released this week.

Although there is yet no cure for HIV, antiretroviral drugs help people infected with HIV live longer and healthier lives, especially with uninterrupted treatment.

Current supplies would last until only this week if not augmented, said Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, AIDS research head of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Artemus Arojado, who has been living with HIV for two years now, is part of a group that wrote Health Secretary Enrique Ona a letter urging him to act on the matter.

The letter spread quickly on social media, and some netizens asked both the BOC and DOH to act swiftly.

Arojado himself will run out of medicines in a few weeks.

“What if I run out of these medicines and Customs fails to release the shipments? Where will I get my supply?” said Arojado, executive director of the HIV advocacy group, Project Red Ribbon. “I am holding on to what I told people around me that I will not surrender to this disease.”

The Department of Health has given assurances that it is acting fast to have the shipments released.

In a press conference, DOH spokesperson Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said the release was delayed due to problems with the shipments’ papers. He did not elaborate further.

“We can assure you that since the first batch will already be released, there will no more be problems in terms of the continuity of treatments,” he said.

Project Red Ribbon letter to Health Secretary Enrique Ona that spread on social media.