Gov’t testing effectiveness of herbal remedies vs dengue

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 12) — Clinical trials are on to see if the tawa-tawa plant, along with other popular herbal remedies, can treat dengue.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officer-in-charge Eric Domingo told CNN Philippines that a supplement containing tawa-tawa, a hairy herb that grows in the country, has been proven to be safe for consumption and is being studied further to see if it is an effective treatment for dengue.

Kailangan makita natin talaga scientifically na mayroon siyang therapeutic effect. So once they completed that, they can register that as a drug. Pero sa ngayon, registered pa lang siya as a supplement,” Domingo said Monday.

[Translation: We need to see scientifically that they have therapeutic effects. So once they complete that, they can register that as a drug. But for now, it’s just registered as a supplement.]

Domingo said it would still take a few more years before the clinical trials are concluded, which includes animal and human testing.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is funding clinical trials to evaluate possible herbal medicines which will combat the dengue virus, elevate platelet levels and reduce plasma leakage.

“These herbs are derived from folkloric use and have passed safety and toxicity studies. We have requested the technology developers to make this available at the soonest time possible after satisfying all the regulatory requirements. We are also coordinating with the FDA regarding this,” DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said in a statement.

University of Santo Tomas students won first prize in a 2012 DOST research competition for their study on the use of tawa-tawa as a treatment for dengue.

In the study, the students found that tawa-tawa increases platelet count and reduces bleeding time in rats who were given drugs to mimic the symptoms of dengue.

But without a clear stamp of approval from the FDA, there is still no available cure or treatment for dengue.

Dengue cases reached a five-year high by the end of July. Close to 170,000 people have contracted the potentially deadly disease since January and over 600 have died.

Domingo, who also serves as a spokesperson for the Health department, fears that the worst is yet to come, as dengue cases would usually taper out by November.

Ten regions have reached epidemic thresholds, while Region 1 and Metro Manila are already above alert status and may reach epidemic level soon, Domingo said.

The Health department has been encouraging citizens to clean their surroundings and to remove stagnant water where dengue-infected mosquitoes can lay eggs.

It has also encouraged people to allow fumigation in their neighborhoods to kill mosquitoes.

Proposals about bringing back Dengvaxia to the Philippine market to prevent a future epidemic have been revived, with President Rodrigo Duterte even saying he is open to lifting the ban on the controversial vaccine.

READ: DOH: Dengvaxia can prevent future dengue epidemics

Dengvaxia has been pulled off the shelves due to its manufacturer’s supposed failure to comply with regulatory requirements.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque, however, is expected to soon decide on whether to overturn the FDA’s ban on Dengvaxia or uphold it.