MANILA - A Senate panel on Monday discussed the possibility of regulating traditional and alternative medicine and its practitioners as hospitals in the country remain nearly full due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a need to regulate manghihilots, albularyos (folk healers), acupuncture practitioners and other traditional medicine providers to ensure that the public is protected from "fly-by-night and unregistered practitioners," said Annabelle De Guzman, Director General of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC).
"We have 2,691 practitioners in 4 pilot provinces in a PITAHC commissioned profiling study... while only 1,479 practitioners are registered nationwide under PITAHC," she said in a Senate hearing.
"[It] implies that a lot of the unregistered practitioners may not have come up with the knowledge and skills required by the competence standards and guidelines for the accredited modality," she said.
"This poses a big risk to the community," she said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it only has the authority to regulate "all health products including traditional medicine... and herbal products."
"We don't regulate the practitioners and the practice of traditional medicine," said Melody Zamudio, officer in charge of the FDA's Product Research and Standard Development Division.
"It's up to the PITAH to regulate practitioners."
The Department of Health (DOH) and several senators backed the approval of Senate Bills No. 1308 and 2127, which authorizes the PITAHC - a government-owned and controlled corporation - to regulate traditional medicine.
"The growing interest in, and the increasing use of traditional and complementary medicine and its practitioners, such as faith healers, and herbalists, require government intervention to not only ensure safety of practice but also to encourage consumers to obtain services from qualified practitioners, clinics and training centers," Senate Health Committee chairman Christopher "Bong" Go said.
"This is a relevant topic to discuss because as we know these services are prevalent in rural areas where these services are sometimes the only affordable and available source of health care," he said.
Sen. Pia Cayetano also stressed the need to regulate these industries.
"Without proper training & regulation, some may intentionally or unintentionally abuse the profession, go beyond the scope of their expertise, and even cause harm," Cayetano said.
The committee has yet to finalize its discussion on how the regulation would be carried out.
Among the options raised are to create licenses for traditional health care practitioners and certifications for small-time providers in rural communities.
Last year, the national government said it was keen on tapping herbal medicine as possible supplement treatment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), with three clinical trials underway.