One life is lost every two minutes to cervical cancer, worldwide. Despite being one of the most preventable and curable forms of cancer, it remains the fourth most common cancer and cause of death among women globally with 342,000 deaths in 2020, 90% of which occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
In fact, cervical cancer incidence is nearly twice as high and its death rates are three times as high in low- and middle-income countries as in high-income countries.
In the Philippines, 11 women die of cervical cancer every day, meaning one Filipina dies from the disease every two hours. It is the second most frequent cancer among Filipino women, particularly among those between 15 and 44 years of age. Annually, there are nearly 8,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths due to cervical cancer in the country. These numbers are projected to increase, with more families standing to lose a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend in the coming years unless interventions are made.
WHO global strategy, and why it matters
Cervical cancer, or the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the cervix, is a preventable disease. It is also curable if detected early and treated promptly. The high mortality rate from cervical cancer could be significantly reduced by interventions at different stages of life.
Cervical cancer will be considered eliminated as a public health problem when all countries reach and maintain an incidence rate of less than 4 per 100,000 women. Adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2020, the global strategy towards eliminating cervical cancer provides recommended actions that include interventions across the life course. In line with this, each country needs to practice three key actions and meet corresponding targets:
- Vaccination: 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine by the age of 15;
- Screening: 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again by the age of 45;
- Treatment: 90% of women with pre-cancer treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer managed.
The World Health Organization’s 90-70-90 global strategy is adopted by the Philippines, but to date, the country has the lowest coverage of cervical cancer vaccination among low-middle-income countries. The Philippines also has one of the lowest screening rates of cervical cancer in the world.
More than 95% of cervical cancer is due to HPV; in the life-course approach to cervical cancer interventions, ideal primary prevention means girls aged 9 to 14 years are given the HPV vaccine. It takes 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women with normal immune systems, and only 5 to 10 years in women with weakened immune systems (such as those with untreated HIV infection).
Given proposed budget cuts to public health initiatives, including the government’s HPV vaccination program, it becomes doubly important for local advocates to amplify their voices and increase their contributions to the movement.
Day of action
With a 14.5 incidence rate of HPV-related cervical cancer, the Philippines is a long way from achieving its elimination goal. As the world marks three years of the global movement to eliminate cervical cancer last November, healthcare company MSD in the Philippines joins world leaders, cervical cancer survivors, civil society organizations, partners, and other advocates in reaffirming the commitment to elimination through action.
MSD in the Philippines is unflagging in its support of the government’s school-based immunization program for HPV. MSD continues to team up with government agencies such as the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DepEd), as well as with local government units, to roll out the program Sa Aking Paglaki Walang HPV, where HPV vaccination is given to Grade 4 students for free. Female learners receive two doses of the HPV vaccine, six months apart, for protection against cervical cancer.
MSD in the Philippines also leads and/or actively supports advocacy campaigns related to the WHO global strategy, namely: Guard Against HPV, a campaign dedicated to promoting the value of vaccination in the fight against HPV and cervical cancer; Hope From Within, a campaign advocating accessible cancer care services, from diagnostics to innovative treatments, by pushing for the implementation of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act; and the multistakeholder #SolidariTeal campaign, an online petition strongly urging all sectors to continue collaborating and crafting innovative solutions to solve challenges and constraints involved in the implementation of cervical cancer elimination plans, programs, and initiatives.
“Women should be protected from the physical, emotional, and economic burden of cervical cancer disease by being vaccinated against HPV in their youth. Together with our partners, MSD is working harder to make preventive care available so that there are no more unnecessary deaths from cervical cancer,” said Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines. “We are fully committed to working with healthcare stakeholders and government agencies to ensure equitable access to innovative medicines, vaccines, and therapies. We all want cervical cancer eliminated within seven years, if not sooner.”