Time for DOST to recalibrate?

The world continues to discover and prove the efficacy of more medicines against SARS-CoV-2, which is good. Now, the next step is to make sure these become easily available in the country, and at reasonable costs. That should substantially bring down the usual costs that Filipino families shoulder when Covid hits them.

Meanwhile, however, a recalibration by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) may be needed, as it spends considerable resources to study and promote the use of herbs like lagundi and tawa-tawa as well as virgin coconut oil (VCO) as adjunct therapies for Covid-19. While we have no quarrel with natural remedies, the situation right now may require some tweaking in its focus and resources.

Merck and Pfizer have started securing emergency use authorization (EUA) for their anti-Covid oral pills in different jurisdictions. Before this, drugs like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab were already being used to treat Covid patients.


Aside from these medicines, the Philippine inoculation program has progressed to the booster shots phase, and we are now also starting to vaccinate children. This may be one factor that led to the decline in the number of Covid cases.

The DOST, meanwhile, continues to spend time and resources for its push for tawa-tawalagundi, and VCO despite the outcome of its clinical studies that only showed “promising” results from the use of these natural remedies for Covid patients.

A report published in the BusinessMirror on October 6 had Dr. Imelda Agdeppa of the DOST-Food and Nutrition Research Institute sharing this information: when VCO was mixed in the meals of mild Covid patients who participated in their study, it helped to significantly reduce the reported signs and symptoms of the virus, with the symptoms gone by the 18th day.

On the other hand, the results of the UP-Manila Institute of Herbal Medicine study showed an insignificant difference in the clinical recovery time of mild Covid patients given 600 milligrams (mg) of lagundi formulation every day compared to the placebo group, or those not given lagundi. The lagundi given in the study is not a concoction from the leaves but already in the medicine form.

To progress with the study, the DOST still needs to subject these “adjunct therapies” to Bio Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) trials, something that is not done in the Philippines. The department said that at a BSL-3 laboratory, VCO, lagundi, and tawa-tawa will be tested against live SARS-CoV-2. Why? Because, while the effects of these remedies have been established on the Covid symptoms, their anti-viral properties still need to be proven, scientists explained.

This BSL-3 study, as well as the other requirements that must be hurdled to declare tawa-tawa, VCO, and lagundi as Covid therapies, of course, will not only cost additional funding, but, crucially, time.

Unfortunately, neither time nor money is on our side in the fight against Covid. The current, fragile decline in cases we enjoy came at a high price: wholesale lockdowns that gutted the economy to arrest infections while government raced to secure, with billions of borrowed money, the vaccines.

There’s another question: will doctors recommend these natural remedies to patients, when medicines proven effective in clinical trials are already around?

Recently, DOST came up with another announcement that VCO, lagundi and tawa-tawa “are not substitutes to Covid-19 vaccines.” A patient still needs the clearance of doctors for VCO, while tawa-tawa clinical case study has yet to prove its efficacy.

Again, this could be another case of needing to recalibrate the priorities for allocating resources.

For one, experts continue to harp on the need to improve the capacity to test so as to identify Covid patients in timely manner and isolate them immediately. The sad state of contact tracing efforts requires attention. Maybe the DOST could funnel more resources to technologies that boost our contact tracing and testing instead?

The DOST might do well to consider going back to the drawing board and cross-checking their plans vis-a-vis the latest developments in the global fight against Covid before putting too much stock just on natural therapies.

Don’t get us wrong: we want DOST at the forefront of discoveries, especially if these involve the use of indigenous materials. However, at this point, a recalibration may be in order.

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