TRADITIONAL and alternative medicine gained more popularity in the global scene, increasing the demand for herbal products worldwide an annual rate of 8 percent during the period of 1994 to 2001. According to the World Health Organization forecast, the global herbal market would be worth $5 trillion by the year 2050.
Statistics showed that Asia is the leading market for herbal medicines in the world. It remains the largest and also one of the fastest growing markets for herbal medicine as local population has higher trust in these medicines because of its relation to their culture.
This worldwide trend has its local herald to the Philippines, led by Dr. Annabelle Pabiona-De Guzman, director general of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC).
In 1997, former President Fidel V. Ramos integrated this health care delivery system through Republic Act 8423, also known as the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act.
PITAHC stands to accelerate the development of traditional and alternative health-care in the country by providing funds, services, and products for its purpose. The mandate encourages scientific research on the use of traditional and alternative medicine for public health, focusing on its effectivity and direct impact to the consumers.
The social advocacy of PITAHC is to give health-care modalities that have been proven safe, cost-effective and consistent as per government standards on medical practice. With the Philippines carrying more than 1,000 plants species that are believed to have medicinal properties, this agency keeps striving for the betterment of local health service.
PITAHC’s original mandate directs them to devoted research on traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM) to further legitimize its image in the country despite being just an “alternative” to drugstore medicines. However, due to their herbal products being bought by the Department of Health (DOH), the agency temporarily lost its main purpose.
This year, the arrival of Pabiona-De Guzman triggered PITAHC to go back to its original mandate. The institute is slowly reshaping its structure, with futuristic plans for research development.
At the moment, PITAHC has four herbal plant plantations in different spots in the country: Tacloban, North Cotabato, Davao, and Tuguegarao, ranging from one to three hectares each. All serve the agency’s intention to deliver traditional and alternative health care through their products such as capsules of lagundi, sambong, and tsaang gubat. These medicines are bought from them by the DOH to be distributed to various health centers in the country.
Currently they are assessing the herbal plantations to identify, which among the four plantations can be utilized as the research center of the agency where they can conduct studies and development of herbal medicines.
Over the years, PITAHC had already conducted several research studies on the development of T&CM. To carry out its goal, the institute partnered with fellow research institutions such as the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, Health Futures Foundation Inc., Bicol University Development Foundation Inc., De La Salle Health Sciences Institute, and other state universities nationwide.
PITAHC’s first and ongoing commissioned research study is the medical cannabis, which was allotted with a budget of 10M pesos. It sparked a controversy due to the country’s current war against illegal drugs. However, the Director-General revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte himself approves of medicinal marijuana as long as it follows its healing cause.
Upon the production of research studies, PITAHC is seeing a future where traditional medicine will be taken in a more defined perspective. Hence, a driving force to transform their unit into a legitimate research institution.
PITAHC expressed interest on putting up training centers that will focus on the study of traditional health care. These centers will also hold accreditations and regulations for aspiring traditional healers. Through this, they can be professionalized and their skills will be honed by a more scientific way. The agency believes that the future needs doctors specializing in traditional medicine. It envisioned our local alternative-medicine healers to be on a par with their counterparts from Thailand and Malaysia, where they are recognized as doctors of alternative medicine.
In their stride to impose an image on T&CM, PITAHC plans to commission on more research works that will extend one’s understanding on alternative medicine. Pabiona-De Guzman said her goal for local traditional health care is to remove the influence of “quackery,” which most Filipinos from the past got accustomed to. PITAHC believes T&CM should be scientific and evidence-based.
Strategic Map 2017-2022
Pabiona-De Guzman eyes for PITAHC to have a brand new structure. With the help of their strategic map for 2017 to 2022, the doctor aims to see a re-organized and professionalized PITAHC in the following years to come.
In the process of enforcing a regulatory function that envisions a trust-worthy institute of their kind, PITAHC is in search of an adequate pool of competent T&CM practitioners and accredited facilities equitably distributed nationwide. By doing so requires monitoring and surveillance, which Pabiona-De Guzman confessed she’s already doing, going around plantations. Development and upgrading of standards and guidelines are also being looked into.
PITAHC also utilized the media for its communication plan —to disseminate information and news about its upcoming projects, programs, and services in line.
PITAHC’s extensive contribution for improved local health care is admittedly a long shot, said Pabiona-De Guzman.
The agency plans of putting up universities and academies and implenting board exams are few of the steps PITAHC wants to take in giving T&CM a whole new look in the country.
“In the long run, people will look at it at a different point of view,” the director general stated.
Through God’s guidance and further enhancement of T&CM knowledge, Pabiona-De Guzman believes they can move forward to a future of professionalized alternative health care. Challenges may come their way but with the armor of faith, this agency bravely will embrace the changes they’ll soon face.