Dr. Tony Leachon, a respected health expert in the Philippines, recently filed a complaint over fake endorsements of unregulated health products.
He claims that unknown individuals used his image and name to falsely endorse products like ‘Glufarelin,’ ‘Grandsure Gold,’ and ‘JointLab’ on multiple websites and social media.
The Ongoing Problem
This issue isn’t new. For two years, Leachon has been a victim of such unethical practices. Screenshots and false information continued to circulate despite his attempts to correct them. Dr Leachon is a newly appointed Department of Health (DOH) special adviser, former Special Adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19, and practicing doctor at Manila Doctor’s Hospital. Dr Leachon was speaking to Medical Channel Asia at the recently concluded PhilMed Expo 2023.
Failure to Act and Dangers
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t made any arrests yet, despite ongoing investigations into these misleading online ads. However, steps are now being taken, thanks to directives from the incumbent Health Secretary, Ted Herbosa.
Leachon emphasises that false information harms not just his reputation but also public health. People are spending money and risking their health on these unregulated products. “I pity those who got hurt, were hospitalised, and spent money on these products,” said Leachon.
A Wider Scourge
Aside from public figures, vloggers like Rosanel Demasudlay are part of the problem. Demasudlay recently falsely claimed that a product called “Bar Bilat Virginity Soap” was approved by the Philippine FDA. In reality, the FDA warned against this unauthorised soap due to possible health risks ranging from skin irritation to organ failure.
The Social Media Struggle
The Philippines has around 76 million Internet users, and Facebook is the most popular platform. Despite a review system, false medical information continues to flood the platform. Sometimes, videos from real doctors are manipulated to lend credibility to these false claims.
The Vulnerability of Filipino Society
According to Dr. Eleanor Castillo, a public health expert, Filipinos are particularly susceptible to these scams due to a doctor shortage and heavy internet usage. The consequences can be severe. For instance, patients as young as 12 have gone blind after using unregulated eye drops bought online.
“Even if we have our rural health units, or village health centres, many of them don’t have doctors or they would visit once a week or twice a month, especially in far-flung areas,” Castillo said.
Urgent Action Needed
Leachon and others are urging senators to strengthen the Cybercrime Prevention Act. Consumers should also check FDA registrations and official endorsements before purchasing health products.
The Global Perspective
The World Health Organisation warns that the pandemic may have worsened the troubling issue of inappropriate promotion and advertisements for unregistered medical products globally.
The surge of fake medical endorsements in Asia, especially the Philippines, is more than just a digital issue; it’s a public health crisis. Tighter regulations, increased public awareness, and responsible reporting are needed more than ever to stem this tide of misinformation.