MANILA - The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday asked the lower house of Congress for an extra budget this year of almost P20 billion to stockpile on antiviral drug and possible flu vaccines as the new influenza A(H1N1) virus continues to spread rapidly.
The Philippines has one of the highest number of cases of the new flu virus in Southeast Asia with nearly 2,000 victims and one death since the first case was reported on May 21.
"We haven't really seen enough of this virus and see how it evolves," Francisco Duque, health secretary, told lawmakers at a hearing at the House of Representatives on Monday.
Duque said the DOH would need about P19.839 billion to purchase an additional 225,000 Tamiflu capsules and 450,000 flu shots that might be made available later this year.
The Philippines has a stockpile of 1.18 million Tamiflu tablets but might run out of supplies as an average of 100 people are getting infected by the new flu virus every day, he said.
But, some lawmakers said they were surprised by the figures because the requested amount was about 80 percent of the health department's entire budget for 2009.
"It's an overkill," Congressman Eduardo Zialcita, adding P19 billion was too much for one disease. He said dengue was killing more people in the country than the new flu virus.
About 80 percent of people infected by the deadly strain of swine flu virus have recovered, he added, citing a report from the health department.
Meanwhile, Duque also announced that laboratory testing centers will also open this week at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City, and the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
They will also open testing centers at the Baguio and Davao Medical Centers, and staff are currently undergoing training.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and Duque also warned the public not to become complacent in the fight against A (H1N1), saying that they have not yet seen the whole evolution of the virus and all its effects on humans.
Last Wednesday, the DOH reported that there have been 1,709 cases so far of A (H1N1) infections, making the Philippines eighth worldwide among countries with the most number of cases of the illness.
The DOH also said that they are further bolstering its mitigation efforts against the illness, after a Tuesday meeting of the A (H1N1) Task Force. With reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News, and Reuters