What is the government doing to bring the oral Covid-19 treatment pill to the Philippines?
The pill to treat the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) known as the experimental drug molnupiravir from the United States pharmaceutical giant Merck is being touted as an equalizer of sorts because it can benefit lower- and middle-income countries with weak health infrastructure.
The United Kingdom regulatory body became the first public health organization to grant authorization for the use of the drug molnupiravir in adults. Experts have said poor countries with weaker infrastructure and limited vaccine supply will benefit from the approval of the medicine. They said the pills are easier to take, make and distribute around the world.
Merck president Robert M. Davis promised last week, “We will continue to move with both rigor and urgency to bring molnupiravir to patients around the world as quickly as possible.” Unlike the vaccines that need special handling, the pills can be moved easily to different countries.
There were reports that the Philippines will get 300,000 courses of the Merck pill this month, to be made available to patients in four hospitals in Metro Manila. Each pill will cost P100 to P150 (US$1.97 to US$2.96), with a patient needing 30 pills over five days to complete the regimen.
Food and Drug Administration Chief Rolando Enrique Domingo had said the Philippines has approved the “compassionate use” of molnupiravir for 31 hospitals. We hope Cebu hospitals are on that list.
In a few months, pharmaceutical company Pfizer will also be ready with its own antiviral medicine. A Pfizer statement said its experimental antiviral pill for Covid-19 can cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 percent in high-risk adults. It will ask regulators in the United States and other countries to authorize its pill soon.
The approval of the Merck and Pfizer pills in the Philippines late this year or early next year will be well-timed as more activity is expected in the months leading to the elections in May 2022. Availability of the pills would also be an election issue as a component of the overall health platform of candidates for president and vice president.
Covid-19 figures stand at 2.8 million total cases with 43,825 deaths as of November 4, 2021. Metro Manila continues to have the highest numbers of 852,000 cases and 10,277 deaths. The rest of the cases and deaths are spread throughout the different regions. Covid-19 doesn’t happen in only one or two regions but in provinces near and far from the central government. The next leaders of the country will have to act fast to make the pills available.
Missteps have been made in government efforts to bring the vaccine here fast and in adequate amounts. Lessons must have been learned then. Apply those lessons in the move to bring the pills here.