Philippines: Department of Health calls for ban on mercury
February 22nd, 2010
Citing global moves to ban mercury, the Department of Health said over the weekend it would call for a ban on the importation of health products containing the highly-toxic substance.
DOH Secretary Esperanza Cabral issued the directive after a meeting with officials of the non-government environmental health group Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWC-SEA).
Cabral also identified other measures aimed at ensuring the public is safe from the adverse effects of mercury on the human body, including the non-issuance of DOH permits to medical devices distributors to sell mercury thermometers, as well as mercury sphygmomanometers.
As early as September 2008, the DOH had ordered the gradual phase-out of medical devices containing mercury in all health care facilities nationwide, stressing the substance was "highly toxic" especially when metabolized into methyl mercury.
Then DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III gave all hospitals and clinics nationwide two years to switch to alternative instruments.
According to Cabral, the next logical step would be banning the entry of mercury devices in the country.
DOH calls mercury, a silvery-white liquid, a "naturally occurring heavy metal."
At ambient temperature and pressure, it readily vaporizes and may stay in the atmosphere for up to a year."
Mercury "may be fatal if inhaled and harmful if absorbed through the skin. Around 80 percent of the inhaled merucy vapor is absorbed in the blood through the lungs."
It is harmful to the nervous, digestive, respiratory and immune systems.
According to DOH, "exposure to mercury can cause tremors, paralysis, impaired vision and hearing, insomnia, attention deficit, and developmental delays during childhood."
Under DOH Administrative Order 21, issued in August 2008, all government and private hospitals nationwide were directed to discontinue the distribution of mercury thermometers, which were normally given out with the usual hospital admission kits.
Faye Ferrer, HCWH-SEA program officer for Mercury in Health Care, on Monday disclosed "with the 98,463 hospital beds in the country, the health care sector alone gives away more than 3 million thermometers during a one-year period."
Ferrer noted "this doesn't include yet purchases made by individuals, schools, laboratories and small clinics."
HCWH-SEA warned that "if discarded as waste, mercury eventually makes its way into the environment where organisms living in rivers, lakes or moist earth transform it into toxic organic mercury, which affects the nerves and the brain."
"Now that the DOH has taken a firmer stand to ban mercury, we are enjoining the health care sector and other government and non-government agencies to support the ban on mercury importation into the country," Ferrer added.
HCWH-SEA earlier reported that an undisclosed number of government and private hospitals and clinics in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, the US and some parts of Europe had started phasing out mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices.
The same health care facilities had been substituting them with "alternatives" like digital thermometers and aneroid sphygmomanometers, which are safer and as accurate as mercury-based devices, the NGO added.
In a related development, the DOH plans to set up a program that would look into the condition of the 20-plus student-victims of mercury poisoning at St. Andrew's School in Paranaque City.
"One of the victims, who is suffering from nerve damage, is on an advanced stage of Parkinsonism. The other victims have stopped chelation therapy to remove mercury from their system," according to HCWH-SEA.
However, it is "unclear" whether they have been given clean bills of health by their doctors, the group added.
Original article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer