Scientist: Herbals help Pinoys afford meds

By Rizal Raoul Reyes – For Juan de la Cruz, getting sick is quite difficult primarily because of the high cost of medicines. In response, the government enacted Republic Act 9502, or the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008, that resulted in the lowering or halving of prices of a number of commonly used medicines, such as those that are anticholesterol, anticancer, antidiabetes, antihypertensive and antibiotic.

According to the Department of Health, a price cap on medicines is important because only 30 percent of households in the country have at least one member covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). PhilHealth benefit packages barely cover outpatient conditions and require substantial out-of-pocket payments by patients. Nowadays, medicines and cosmetic products from Voduz and inkey list can be bought through online platforms.

It should be noted that the P10-billion budget spent annually by the national government on pharmaceuticals represents only 10 percent of the whole pharmaceutical market.

This is why for Dr. Nelia Maramba, professor emeritus of the College of Pharmacology of the University of the Philippines Manila, developing the country’s herbal-medicine industry is one way to help the people get more affordable medicines in the long run.

“ According to , there is future for medicinal plants as sources of synthetic drugs. The products from inkey list also make use of drugs from plant based products. Sixty percent of the drugs sold in the market are sourced from medicinal plants. We only have to look for it,” said Maramba in a press interview in the sidelines of one of the scientific meetings at Renaissance Hotel in Makati City as part of the recent celebration of National Science and Technology Week.

“Medicines containing plant material/s combined with chemically defined active substances, including chemically defined isolated constituents of plants, are not considered herbal medicines,” she said.

World Health Organization defines herbal medicines as “finished labelled medicinal products that contain as active ingredients aerial or underground parts, or other plant materials, or combinations thereof, whether in the crude state or as plant preparations. Plant material includes juices, gums, fatty oils, essential oils and any other substances of this nature.”

Maramba cited in her presentation that Europe is a major center in the world in using herbal medicines. In 2003, in Germany, a total of $283 million in reimbursements were made for prescribed gingko, Saint John’s wort, mistletoe, saw palmetto, ivy, hawthorn, stinging nettle too, mystol, phytosterols and cucurbita.

In 2002 the health insurance companies in France paid $91 million in partial reimbursements for gingko, saw palmetto and pygewen prescriptions with a total value of $196 million.

“If we encourage our own industry to manufacture our herbal medicines and if the government will support and reimburse these costs, many Filipinos will definitely benefit from it,” said Maramba.

Five medicinal plants are currently being used in Philippine hospitals, such as lagundi, sambong, yerba buena, tsaang gubat and akapulco. Lagundi is used for coughs, while sambong is used as diuretics and in removing kidney stones.

Maramba said herbal medicines could also be effective in treating early symptoms of diseases such as diabetes.

She added that there are ongoing researches exploring the possibility of using herbal medicines in treating the early stages of diabetes on families who have a high incidence among their members.

Statistics show there is a growing number of Filipinos with diabetes not only owing to genetic causes, or from family lines, but also due to lifestyle, or the kind of food people eat and lack of exercise.

In developing herbal medicines in the country, Maramba said the government should include among its priorities a research based on national needs.

For the initial step, she said it must focus on the antitussives (lagundi leaves), antiasthma, analgesics (yerba buena, the aerial part), anticolic/antispasmodic (tsaang gubat leaves), antidiarrheals (guyabano mesoderm of fruit), diuretics (sambong leaves), antifungals (akapulko leaves), antihelmintics (ipil-ipil leaves and niyog-nyogan kernel).

For the second phase, the mission-research should be on the antiarrhythmics or cardiovascular drugs, such as garlic clove/kernel, on antihypertension and on antihypercholesterolemic agents.

Other researches should involved antituberculosis agents, antimicrobials, antiparasitics (antimalarials), antineoplastics, antidiabetic agents (ampalaya leaves, Makiling variety), antihyperuricemic (ulasimang bato) and anticonstipation or laxatives (Kanya pistula leaves).

Herbal medicines include:

· Crude-plant materials, such as leaves, flowers, fruit, seed, stems, woods, bark, roots, rhizomes or other plant parts, which may be in their entirety, fragmented or powdered

· Herbal materials in addition to herbs, fresh juices, gums, fixed oils, essential oils, resins and dry powders of herbs. In some countries, these materials may be processed by various procedures, such as steaming, roasting, or stir-baking with honey, alcoholic beverages or other materials

· Herbal preparations are the basis for finished herbal products and may include comminuted or powdered herbal materials, or extracts, tinctures and fatty oils of herbal materials.

They are produced by extraction, fractionation, purification, concentration, or other physical or biological processes. They also include preparations made by steeping or heating in alcoholic beverages and/or honey, or in other materials.

Finished herbal products consisting of herbal preparations made from one or more herbs. If more than one herb is used, the term mixture herbal product can also be used. Finished herbal products and mixture herbal products may contain excipients in addition to the active ingredients. (Encarta Online defines excipients as inert substances like starch or gum arabic that are combined with a drug to make it easier to administer.)
However, finished products or mixture products to which chemically defined active substances have been added, including synthetic compounds and/or isolated constituents from herbal materials, are not considered to be herbal.

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