FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

To the credit of the Department of Health, our people have become more receptive to government’s vaccination campaigns. This is important to combat epidemics and save lives.

Public receptivity to the vaccination program declined because of the controversy over Dengvaxia. Now, in the face of several potential epidemic outbreaks, more Filipinos are submitting to vaccination. We can only hope the DOH continues to nurture that recovered trust in the vaccination program through the provision of safe and reliable vaccines.

A number of polio cases have been reported recently. We were supposed to have eradicated this disease decades ago. With polio’s reappearance, there is urgency in fighting back through comprehensive vaccination.

The DOH’s valiant effort to win back public confidence in the vaccination program may be set back by new questions raised over the agency’s choice of vaccines. The Department was supposed to bid out procurement for vaccines last Nov. 19. The exercise was cancelled the week before that to enable the authorities to conduct “further study.”

The only development in this particular procurement exercise is the entry of a potential new bidder offering a cheaper product called PCV 10. The bidding rules specified PCV 13 as the vaccine to be purchased for the government vaccination program.

Our health authorities have been using PCV 13 since 2014. According to some experts, the vaccine is preferable because it covers deadly serotypes prevalent in the country. Among these serotypes are: 19A, which is completely resistant to antibiotics; 6A and 3.

As such, PCV 13 offers better protection to Filipino children below five years of age. It is also the vaccine preferred by 126 out of 157 countries, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report.

PCV 10, although slightly cheaper, offers fewer serotype protection. This is the main reason why over the past few years, several countries that traditionally used PCV 10 in their vaccination programs have shifted to PCV 13.

There are other hindrances to shifting to the cheaper vaccine. For government to purchase a particular vaccine, the drug must have undergone a Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and must be listed in the Philippine National Formulary, the list of medicines government agencies are allowed to buy.

PCV 10 has yet to be subjected to an HTA. It normally takes several months to over a year for this process to be completed. That will surely delay procurement.

Since PCV 10 is not listed in the Philippine National Formulary, it can only be bought if it is exempted from this requirement. To be exempted, it must be only product available in the market for, in this case, the vaccination program. This cannot be the case for PCV 10 since PCV 13 is widely available.

Then there is this final question our health authorities must answer: Is saving a few pesos on a vaccine that delivers less protection worth it?

Any parent with a sick child would do their utmost to obtain the best medicine available.

Third-party collectors

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) did something truly puzzling recently.

Responding to mounting complaints about certain online lenders using the rough tactics of shaming cash-strapped borrowers unable to repay on time, the NPC summoned these lenders to appear before it. This is well within the authority of the NPC, which is tasked with regulating how personal data is used or shared by enterprises that gain access to them.

But since several online lenders had no known business addresses, the NPC resorted to distributing the names of the on-line lenders, including the names of their respective directors during a press conference. This may have been a violation of the privacy concerns of the lenders, especially those falsely accused.

As far as the law is concerned, no final judgment has been rendered on the so-called shaming activities of the lending firms. By its own admission, the NPC collected the names of targeted firms from concerned expressed through social media. These are not formally filed complaints.

Most of the shaming activities of on-line lending firms use their access to the phonebooks of their borrowers. The NPC may correctly draw a line on this practice. But it must also avoid taking a shotgun approach against all online lenders.

The shotgun approach constrained many legitimate online lenders to defend their reputations in the media. Also, it is important to draw the line between online lending companies and the third-party collection agencies that work for them on a commission basis. Many of the unethical collection practices are, in fact, attributable to the third-party collectors.

In one television interview, for instance, Arnel Mateo, legal representative of FCash Global Lending Inc. insists “collection malpractices would not be tolerated in our company. Those who call and collect are third-party collection agencies.”

Mateo, president of ADM & Partners Data Privacy Consulting Inc., observed that the experience with FCash underscores the importance of developing a listening and emphatic relationship between the lenders and their borrowers. By working directly with the borrowers, the lending companies may negotiate terms of repayment.

The sudden boom in online lending activities may have caused so much impersonal transactions to happen. As in any business, the resort to third-party collectors ought to be only the last resort rather than the first.

The NPC might pay closer attention to the rather quirky relationship between the actual lenders and the third-party collection companies. That will prevent a repeat of what happened.

While the online lenders were crucified en masse, no step has been taken to regulate the third-party collectors who might be the real culprits in this case.

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