POSTSCRIPT / March 2, 2003 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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03/03/03 a perfect time to pray for world peace

MINDANAO BACKYARD: It’s Sunday — and thoughts turn to making the world, especially our own backyard, safer.

A jittery world watches as the American war machine creeps closer to Iraq for a high-tech death blow. But to us, the more real concern is the spate of violence in Mindanao that has claimed numerous Filipino lives.

There is that eerie feeling, mostly still unfounded, that there are bloody hands manipulating the Mindanao violence, as it is also in the looming war for control of the oil fields of Iraq. Why do we seem helpless to stop the wholesale violence?

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POPE TO BAGHDAD: My barber, bless his soul, was saying yesterday that if he were the Pope, anguished and aging at 83, he would quietly travel to Iraq — presumptively the cradle of mankind — and amble to one of the Christian churches in the capital.

There he would kneel in prayer and, by his holy presence, try to hold back the weapons of mass death and fire that President George W. Bush has aimed at the heart of the Iraqi nation. If he has to stay and pray for 40 days and 40 nights, or till his body loses out, he would.

Such a papal watch in Baghdad may look like a desperate bid for peace, but it has enough drama to move a few key players in the impending war.

It will be a security nightmare for those who fear for the safety of the Holy Father, but we’re sure John Paul II is ready to give all to prevent a war that has set millions around the globe marching and praying.

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MARK 03/03/03: There are some peace advocates pushing still another idea in the Internet for another universal prayer for peace based on the number 3, the number of perfection that’s sometimes used to represent the Holy Trinity.

The idea is for all Christians to pause tomorrow, March 3, 2003 (or 03/03/03) and pray for peace — for inner peace, for peace in the family, peace in our suffering nation, and peace for all mankind.

If this could be done at either 3:03 a.m. or 3:03 p.m., that would make it 03/03/03/03/03 for a more precise coming together in prayer.

Worldwide coordination in real time could be problematic The 3:03 a.m./p.m. for community prayer is different times in different places. An alternative is to use Greenwich Meridian Time and use its 03/03/03/03/03 equivalent in whatever place we find ourselves.

But even without a universal agreement, we can pray anytime together. Our commonness will bind us anyway, whenever and wherever we say our special prayer for peace.

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PPA HANDLING ABROAD: While our health authorities are quibbling over the medical risks posed by phenylpropanolamine (PPA) in popular medicines sold over the counter, a number of countries aside from the United States have banned or strictly regulated it.

A search in the Internet last January yielded the following:

  1. Brazil:Products containing PPA were recalled within 30 days from Nov. 8, 2000.
  2. Canada:Health Canada recommended, as a precaution, that consumers do not use any products containing PPA until a full assessment was completed.
  3. Caribbean:Must replace some products.
  4. China:Chinese SDA has issued a mandatory withdrawal of all PPA containing products.
  5. Korea:KFDA requested that all the manufacturers and importers of products containing PPA stop the manufacturing or importation and sale immediately.
  6. Malaysia:Banned medicines containing PPA that have been recalled.
  7. Mexico:BOH asked the industry to withdraw voluntarily — no time limit. If some companies do not comply within a short timeframe, BOH will mandate an immediate recall.
  8. Middle East:BOH requesting voluntary withdrawal and requesting a review of the reformulated products.
  9. Thailand:Thai FDA has withdrawn licenses for two cold relieving drugs containing PPA as a single substance weight loss. Forty-nine products containing PPA, in combination for cold preparations, still on the market. The FDA is reviewing whether they should also be banned.
  10. Venezuela:On Nov. 28, 2000, local MOH sent a communication, indicating immediate suspension of some products.

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ATHLETE SUCCUMBS: Last Monday an outstanding athlete fell for the glowing promises of weight loss coupled with enhanced performance made by the manufacturers of an ephedra-related product (a cousin of PPA) and died.

Victim was the Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Steve Bechler, 23, who left a wife who was pregnant with the couple’s first child.

Before this case, the Minnesota Vikings star Korey Stringer, the Northwestern University football player Rashidi Wheeler and the Florida State linebacker Devaughn Darling had used supplements containing ephedra before their untimely death.

Ephedra has been banned by the NCAA, the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee.

Like its chemical cousins, methamphetamine (speed) and phenylpropanolamine (PPA), ephedra temporarily suppresses appetite but rapidly produces tolerance. Sustained weight loss by obese persons has never been convincingly demonstrated at doses of ephedra generally considered to be safe, reports said.

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SIX VICTIMS IN R.P.: Days ago, Dr. Nelia Cortes Medalla, founder and now consultant of the UP-PGH National Poisons Control and Information Center, cited the cases of six Filipinos who reportedly died after taking cough and cold medicine containing PPA.

Disputing a statement of Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit that PPA-laced drugs are safe at lower dosages, Maramba was quoted in the news as saying, “He (Dayrit) should look at our poison control center statistics.”

Dayrit was reported saying later that the link to PPA was still inconclusive. We wonder how many more people should die before our health authorities take decisive action.

The secretary will also have to explain reports that he was a consultant of a giant drug company that manufactures nine PPA-laced cold and cough medicines. We would be more comfortable if our health officials showed more concern for people’s health than the profitability of drug companies.

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BFAD AWAKENING?: But it seems that some Bureau of Food and Drugs officials are now having second thoughts about their public assurance that medicines with low PPA content are safe.

Issuing BFAD Advisory No. 2003-0002, bureau Director Leticia Barbara B. Gutierrez conceded that cough and cold medicines containing PPA could cause blindness and enlargement of the prostate.

Gutierrez said people should “be careful” when taking these drugs if they suffer from high blood pressure, toxic goiter, benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement of the prostate), irregular heart rate, glaucoma, or are taking anti-depressant drugs.

A Yale University study has found that medicines with PPA could cause hemorrhagic stroke or bleeding in the brain. The US Food and Drug Administration declared PPA unsafe for use, prompting its pullout from the US market.

But not in the Philippines, where everybody has to look after his own health and safety.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 2, 2003)

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