The Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Medicine (PITAHC) was established in 1997 thru the enactment of R.A. 8423 or the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act (TAMA) of 1997 purposely to improve the quality and delivery of health care services while taking into account the proliferating Traditional and Alternative Health Care (TAHC) Practitioners in the country and the considerable population of Filipino citizens who trusted/ opted TAHC practices in curing illnesses and maintaining good health.
Objectives were set which spell out the intent of the law and likewise postulate indicators of the realization of blueprints in which the said legislative measure was passed. Powers and functions of the institution (PITAHC) were specified so that it would strategically operate with efficacy in reaching-out TAHC practitioners, in bridging the complementarity bio-medicine and alternative medicine, and in reconciling the disparities of the said two disciplines in the realm of health care system in the Philippines.
Prior to the inception of TAMA of 1997, TAHC practitioners independently exercise their practice on traditional medicines (i.e. albularyos, hilot-masahe, traditional birth attendant, faith healers, psychic surgeons and medicos) and casual adoption on complementary & alternative medicine (imported modalities such as; acupuncture, acupressure, tuina massage, western massage, reflexology, chiropractor, homeopathy and naturopathy) was significant that it has even formed- part in the health care system of the country.
Moreover, production of various unscientifically proven herbal products was accelerating. These were the scenarios which depicted several challenges on the part of PITAHC specifically in carrying-out its duties (regulation, training, research and advocacy). There was a pressing demand for PITAHC’s competence to integrate/ standardize traditional medicine, regulate formal training for complementary and alternative medicine, and fast-track the conduct of research for the empirical & scientific studies of local herbs claimed/proven by TAHC practitioners to be of effective medicinal value.
After 16 years of PITAHC’s existence, let us gauge how its mandates impact into the accustomed practices of traditional and alternative medicine. In same manner, we can evaluate the effectiveness of thesaid law in improving the quality and delivery of health services to the Filipino people.
On PITAHC’s effort of regulating TAHC practices, the institution was able to formulate accreditation and certification standards for the Acupuncture, Chiropractic and Homeopathy/ Homotoxicology while other modalities specially on traditional medicine have no standards yet nor integrative endeavour being facilitated. Few standards of TAHC practices have been identified and little to no regulations exists for the majority of TAHC practices. Traditional medicine is not currently under consideration for regulation, standardization or integration. In spite of the availability of standards for the said 3 modalities, only few TAHC practitioners, communities, organization and clinics applied for certification and accreditation obviously because of lack of enforcement capacity of PITACH.
Accreditation / certification has become optional on the part of TAHC practitioners in the absence of an order/control for a compulsory affiliation with PITAHC. Although it has been mandated to regulate TAHC, only DOH and FDA have the concrete power to control via enforcement. In other words, TAHC practitioners can freely continue its practices without linking with PITAHC as long as they comply with regulation of DOH & FDA (for herbal products manufacturer) and the regular pre-requisite of business establishment.
One of the major functions of the institution as stipulated in R.A. 8423 is the conduct of research for the formulation of standards and guidelines for the manufacture, marketing and quality control of different traditional and alternative health care materials and products for approval and adoption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Out of about 2,000 herbs in the country, only 10 (which later reduced into 8) have undergone the rigorous scientific research. From these 8 herbs, PITAHC develop, manufacture and market herbal medicines. What about the other herbs used by most of TAHC practitioners as health care materials/ products? It is admitted that herbs are highly regulated. The type of regulation for herb classified as “herbal medicines” is the same regulation as for conventional pharmaceuticals or synthetic medicines. The FDA established specific criteria for establishing evidence of claimed application.
Claims can be made only if supported by scientific evidence. Herbal medicines sold with any type of claims will have undergone randomised controlled trials, whereas those that didn’t met the requirements would be registered under food supplement and labelled without any therapeutic claim. In view thereof, TAHC practitioners who engage in manufacturing herbal products (other than the 8 herbs endorsed by PITAHC) can still be registered as food supplement and market the same but appear to be inferior than PITAHC’s herbal medicines.
These prevailing circumstances of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (TACH) Practices in the Philippines evidently indicate great challenges for PITAHC as national coordinating center / network and for the Department of Health whose mandate is for the quality health care services. PITAHC must initiate a collaborative effort in the integration processes of TAHC practices and in interplaying with other government agencies’ programs /projects, especially with FDA and DOH.
The seemingly confusions of PITACH on its role (to regulate without enforcement capacity) should be resolved to justify its existence. The national leadership on health sector must consider the need for revisions or modifications of TAMA law after 16 years since its inception. All the challenges and resolutions must geared towards tangible coordination between PITAHC and TAHC Practitioners and to truly manifest the complementarity of Biomedicine and Traditional and Alternative Health Care. By then, the perceived peaceful co-existence of PITAHC and TAHC Practitioners would turn into a harmonized and concerted delivery of health services. A purpose-driven exercise of one’s duties and responsibilities will reign in the name of quality health care system in the country.