DOH to conduct surveillance of stem cell facilities in Davao Region

The Department of Health (DOH) XI is set to conduct a surveillance of all establishments in the Davao Region that are offering stem cell treatments without the proper authorization.

“At present there are no facilities in the Region that have been authorized by DOH to perform stem cell treatments,” DOH XI Licensing Officer Alex F. Daba said during Monday’s regular Kapihan held at SM City Annex.

The move is in accordance with Administrative Order 2013-0012 providing the Rules and Regulations Governing the Accreditation of Health Facilities Engaging in Human Stem Cell and Cell-Based or Cellular Therapies in the Philippines which was released by Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona on March 18, 2013. However, the AO becomes effective only 15 days after its approval and publication.

“As with any new technology there is a need to regulate stem cell treatment in order to protect the public from unscrupulous people who might not be properly trained and authorized to conduct the procedure,” he said.

Secretary Ona’s AO indicated that stem cell-based therapies have existed for the past four decades and some have been proven to be effective in some medical conditions. “Stem cells that come from the bone marrow or blood gave already been routinely used in transplant procedures to treat patients with cancer and other disorders of the blood and immune system,” the AO said.

The AO was issued after a survey conducted by DOH-Bureau of Health Facilities and Services (BHFS) that five hospitals and some ambulatory clinics were providing stem cell services to patients for various indications.

Mr. Daba said they have received reports that even here in the Region, there are facilities including hospitals and clinics conducting the stem cell therapy. However, he added, they still have to verify those reports through the conduct of the surveillance.

“As of now all we can do is to comply with the surveillance and then create a Master List of these facilities,” he said. They are set to meet with the different hospitals and clinics in Davao next week to inform these facilities about the new guidelines so that they will discontinue providing the said treatments.

With the issuance of Secretary Ona’s order, he said, all the unauthorized facilities providing stem cell treatment are unauthorized and should be advised to stop.

“The primary goal of the AO is to prevent the introduction, transmission and spread of communicable disease by ensuring a minimum quality of service rendered by hospitals and other health facilities in human stem cell therapies,” he said. This will also ensure that human stem cells and other cell-based therapies are safe and effective for their intended use, he added.

Mr. Daba said hospitals may already have licenses to perform the regular health services but they still need authorization from the DOH to perform stem cell therapy. Without such authorization, he said, these hospitals are not allowed to provide such services.

He said authorized hospitals and clinics are required to comply with the guidelines set by the Bioethics Advisory Board (BAB) which is chaired by the DOH Secretary. There are already two applicants for the region and once approved, DOH will release a Master List of facilities authorized to perform Stem Cell Therapy in Region XI.

One of the more serious proponents of stem cell therapy is Davao del Norte District 1 Representative Antonio del Rosario who is pushing for the establishment of a Stem Cell Research and Storage Facility in Mindanao through House Bill 5037.

Prior to the May, 2013 elections, del Rosario said the Bill has been approved by the Science and Technology Committee and is pending with the Technical Working Group.

“Stem cell technology is already available in the Philippines but only in private and expensive hospitals such as the Makati Medical Center and St. Luke’s,” he said. Mr. del Rosario is a survivor of stage-3 lymphoma or cancer of the lymph nodes.

Del Rosario said he has already met a leading stem cell expert working in the United States who happens to be a Filipino. But while the said expert is open to the possibility of heading the Facility, he is concerned about the financial support of the government to the Facility.

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