Patient groups, health experts, the academe, the public sector, and healthcare companies have collectively communicated the need to increase access to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines among teenage girls during the 12th HPV Summit titled “One Community Against HPV”.
The Summit also highlighted that HPV immunization as a preventive measure is integral as the Philippines intensifies its efforts to eliminate cervical cancer. Alongside comprehensive investment in immunization, scaling up access to cervical cancer screening and treatment are seen to yield substantial socio-economic returns and elimination of the disease for the Philippine society.
Nearly all instances of cervical cancer are linked to HPV infection. Cervical cancer is also a preventable and highly treatable disease if detected early. In November 2020, the World Health Organization launched a strategy to eliminate cervical cancer with three pillars: ensuring vaccination for 90% of girls, screening 70% of women aged 35-45, and treating diagnosed women appropriately.
In the Philippines, cervical cancer is the fourth primary cause of cancer-related deaths among women, claiming more than 4 thousand lives yearly. With around 38 million Filipino women still susceptible to cervical cancer, this equates to an alarming rate of 11 Filipinas losing their lives daily to the disease.
(Comment: I think cervical cancer is the FOURTH most frequent cancer in both sexes – male and female BUT remains to be the SECOND most frequent cancer in Filipino women…. maybe since I was born.)
This is why the HPV Summit directed its discussion around the importance of a prevention-centric approach and investing more in early prevention by vaccinating young girls so they are protected from HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life.
“Kada taon, dumadami ang batang babae na nasa taong 9 to 14 years old. Dahil dito, ang dapat gawin ng ating gobyerno at pataas ang budget for HPV vaccination. Napakahalaga ng bakunang ito kasi mababawasan nito ang risk na magkaron ng cancer ang ating mga anak. Ito ang panlaban para mabura ang cervical cancer.” said Carmen Auste, Vice President of the Cancer Coalition Philippines.
In line with the ongoing budget deliberations on preventive measures against cancer, Auste also explained why it is not recommended for government to lessen the investment in HPV vaccination. “Alam naman natin na huling-huli na tayo globally sa percentage ng coverage – na dapat at least 90% or 9 out of 10 ng age 9-14 ay mabakunahan. Kaya napakalaking kabawasan na mula 1.4 million doses (in 2022) magiging 750,000 doses na lang, halos hinati.”
(Comment: WHO reports our HPV vaccination coverage at 23% first dose and 5% second dose – WHO GOAL is 90%; whereas our cervical screening coverage is at a dismal 1% – WHO GOAL of 70%. Given a limited budget – Chicken or Egg?, the Mother or the Child?, Prevention or Treatment? What do you think?)
Echoing Auste’s sentiment, Dr. Jan Llevado, Department of Health (DOH)’s Cancer Control Program Division Chief said “In our fulfillment in the World Health Assembly to address cervical cancer. We are working to increase the coverage of HPV vaccination in the country. For the calendar year 2023, the Department of Health has acquired 1 million doses of HPV vaccine, which will cover an estimated 500,000 females aged 9 to 17, or approximately 38% of the nationwide school-aged children target. We are appealing to Congress for an additional budget for our proposal for 2024. We were initially given a budget for 750, 000 doses. Still, we’re appealing for additional budget to cover at least one age cohort,”
Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) also supported ensuring that young girls know about cervical cancer.
“To stand as vanguards of Filipino Children, our future, and through Department Order 173 or the inclusion of human papillomavirus vaccination in our school-based immunization program, DepEd has shown our commitment to the cause. As we returned to face-to-face classes post-pandemic, we are in an even more opportune position to make this more pronounced and build on our efforts, both in terms of our comprehensive sexuality education program and our adolescent reproductive health program through our teen centers. We seek to work with all of you to make cancer control and school health more deeply embedded in the lives of our young learners,” said Dr. Dexter Galban, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Operations.
Local government units also expressed their commitment in implementing the global strategy against cervical cancer.
“We have invested in adolescent HPV vaccination and cervical cancer awareness campaigns for female learners 9-13 years old. Under this program, we kicked off the school-based and community-based vaccination of HPV in partnership with the DOH, DepEd and healthcare company partner MSD in the Philippines,” shared Sto Tomas, Batangas Mayor Arth Jhun Marasigan.
“Local government units like us have a vital role in the endeavor. The City Government of Tarlac is strengthening partnerships with the national government, NGOs, the private sector and other organizations to amplify our impact. We have allocated resources, enacted policies and legislations, and launched public awareness campaigns that reflect our commitment to a future where HPV is no longer a threat,” Tarlac City Mayor Maria Cristina Angeles shared.
Community-based organizations can also mobilize support for women. “Most women prioritize the needs of their families rather than their own, rather than their health. This may result in women neglecting their health issues. Cervical cancer can easily be prevented if detected early. The benefits of investment in women and children will extend beyond health and translate into increased economic prosperity, strengthened societal bonds, and improved community resilience,” said Trina Biazon, Chairperson and Program Director of Gender and Development of the Centrong Aruga para sa Kababaihan of Muntinlupa City.
The 12th HPV Summit is jointly organized by the Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association of the Philippines and MSD in the Philippines, in partnership with the Department of Health, AC Health, Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, and the Society of Adolescent Medicine of the Philippines, together with the Cancer Warriors Foundation.
In this crucial moment, a strong appeal is being made for individuals, groups, and communities to unite in the collective fight against HPV. Collaborative efforts from various stakeholders are essential to enhance awareness, encourage vaccination, and champion equal access to healthcare services. Together, we can significantly influence the health and welfare of our communities. To join the fight, sign the 11 thousand Loud SolidariTeal petition at https://www.change.org/p/it-is-time-to-take-action-against-cervical-cancer.
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