Filipinos positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) seem to be in limbo after news broke out about additional supplies of drugs that help slow the progress of the disease being held up by the national customs agency.
sent by a group named The Project Red Ribbon Care Management Foundation, Inc. to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona last September 2 said that HIV-positive patients would npt be able to avail of of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) if the shipment containing about 1,000 boxes of ARV drugs would be released by September 5. The group even described the problem as a “life and death situation and a social concern”.
The group explained “the delay in the shipment has caused [the AIDS Research Group of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM-ARG)] to provide their clients only half a bottle of the ARV cocktails every two weeks, instead of the normal three bottles of ARV cocktails every quarter.” The group in its letter added RITM-ARG had to lend their ARV stocks to HIV treatment centers in Metro Manila and some provinces for the last two weeks prior to the letter due to the shortage.
As of this writing, no update has been published regarding the issue.
For its part, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) said the drug shipment had no formal import entry and the tax and duties were not paid, that was why the antiretroviral medicines have been in storage since August at the Paircargo warehouse in Parañaque City.
“How can [the drug shipment] be put on hold by Customs if the import entry was only filed [on Sept. 3]?” Charo Logarta-Lagamon, BOC spokesperson, said in an interview.
She said the BOC was still waiting for the payment of the taxes from the Department of Health (DOH) for its importation of antiretroviral drugs.
Importation taxes of the drugs, which came from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Denmark and delivered to the country in two batches on August 2 and 14, would cost about P5 million.
As soon as DOH is able to submit required document and pay duties and taxes, it could have the drugs after only “several hours,” Logarta said.
She added that there is no exemption to paying taxes on the imported products even if the transaction was made through two government agencies.
“We will make sure [the drugs] will be cleared. This is a normal thing. We don’t want to give special treatment because it is a government agency [that is a party to the transaction],” Logarta said, referring to the DOH.
BOC Commissioner John Philip Sevilla explained that the general rule states that the drugs will not be released unless importers filed the necessary documents and paid the necessary taxes.
Meanwhile, a newspaper story said at 1 p.m. on September 3, the DOH filed the documents with the BOC so that the anti-retroviral drugs for HIV victims will be released.
Ona, in a statement on September 3, said the drugs will be released by batch.
“These drugs will be available to patients under the DOH HIV treatment program,” Ona said. “Currently, enough supplies are available for these patients even as DOH awaits the release of those drugs now at BOC.”
“Let me underscore that the Department of Health looks into the welfare of the people living with HIV (PLHIV), together with other HIV advocates and supporters,” Ona added, saying further the move is “clearly part of our pursuit to attain the MDGs in health and Kalusugan Pangkalahatan.”
The issue surfaced amid the continuous rise in the number of HIV-infected Filipinos. Based on DOH data, 585 more Filipinos had become HIV-positive in July, making the running total of HIV-infected Filipinos this year to 3,399.