TWO THOMASIANS have been tapped to lead the country's organization of physicians and nurses.

Dr. Maria Minerva Calimag, a professor from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, was picked for a second term as president of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) last March, while Dr. Mila Delia Llanes, an assistant professor at the College of Nursing, was elected president of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) last January.

On ethical drug testing

Calimag, in a press conference last December, reiterated the PMA’s stand against the clinical trial of the anti-dengue drug ActRx TriAct following health risks.

ActRx TriAct is a combination drug composed of artesunate and artemether that are antimalarial drugs, and berebrine, a herbal drug designed to treat malaria and dengue.

The drug, which was initially tested for malaria treatment in Palawan last 2012, was again tested in 2013 to treat around 300 dengue patients in San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

PMA, along with the World Health Organization and the Philippine College of Physicians, sought to stop the trial because it involved dengue patients, not malaria, for which the drug was intended.

Clinical trial for ActRx TriAct on malaria treatment in Palawan was cancelled a year later following an investigation on questionable practices by the Food and Drug Administration. Then-Health Secretary Enrique Ona issued a memorandum reversing this cancellation, and that the drug be used in a clinical trial in San Lazaro Hospital for dengue treatment instead.

Calimag explained that the trial should be cancelled because it did not follow the standard procedure for testing new drugs.

"A drug that is proven effective for cure against a certain disease cannot be used to treat another," she said. "There are different microorganisms involved. Malaria is caused by a protozoa, while dengue is caused by a virus."

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PMA is pushing for an investigation on the clinical trials, as well as on the possible sanctions on Ona and other people involved.

On healthcare standards

Last 2013, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) ordered the closure of 218 out of 491 Nursing programs and schools around the country after implementing its standards.

Llanes said the decrease in nursing schools in the country was intended to ensure the quality of the profession in the Philippines.

In the CHEd Memorandum Order No.18 released last 2011, in order for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to continue offering nursing programs, educational standards have to be maintained.

Nursing schools with a 30 percent passing rate will be monitored to make sure they comply with requirements set by CHEd while schools with a passing rate of 30 percent and below for three consecutive years will be immediately closed by CHEd to ensure that nursing schools produce globally-competitive professionals.

"This is why I advise HEIs with low averages to shape up and change their practices," Llanes said. "It's not too late to check if they follow the right standards."

Calimag is also pushing for the passage of the Physicians' Act which, if passed, would replace the Medical Act of 1959 in the supervision of medical education and medical practice in the country.

She said more focus should be put in other aspects of Philippine healthcare, such as primary care, non-communicable diseases, and lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

After the presidency

Both professors became governors of their respective organizations prior to the presidency and have no plans of being re-elected next year.

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PMA presidents are limited to a single re-election.

"[There is] no more third term," Calimag said. "It is time to move on to the greater responsibilities after the second term."

Prior to her presidency, she served as one of the PMA's governors in 2004 and 2013. She has been a member of the association since 1982.

Calimag was also president of the Philippine Society of Anesthesiologists from 2010 to 2011, and of the Manila Surgeons Alliance last 2002. Aside from her Doctor of Medicine degree, she obtained her Doctor of Philosophy in Education at the UST Graduate School last 2010.

She served in the field of organized medicine for 31 years and spent 27 in the academe, focusing on the application of online technology to medical studies as well as research on drug monographs and general anesthetics.

Meanwhile, Llanes also affirmed that she would not be running for another term next year.

"We have to aim for milestones during my term this year," she said. "I'm not allowed to run for another term [for both positions] next year because this is already my fourth year as a governor."

The presidency in the PNA could coincide with the two-year term for governors. Newly-appointed governors can run again for one more term.

Llanes is currently teaching in the College of Nursing in the University, where she also served as an assistant dean.

She was also the assistant dean in the Graduate School of Saint Paul University and the dean of the Olivarez College of Health Related Sciences.

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Llanes was also one of the 27 participants of the Global Nursing Leadership Training last 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland and also served as the PNA's governor since 2012. Rhenn Anthony S. Taguiam

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