THE Department of Health (DOH) bared recently that it has allocated around P650 million this year for its expanded Human Papillomavirus (HPV) School-Based Immunization Program, providing free vaccines to about 722,000 students in seven cities in Metro Manila and 47 provinces nationwide for their protection against cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases and infections.
“HPV vaccination is part of the DOH’s National Immunization Program. Vaccination is a basic right of children and no child shall be deprived of this right. Our children are one of the most important assets of this country; therefore, every effort should be made to promote their welfare and optimum development. They should be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. And what better way to do this than through vaccination,” Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial said.
Cervical cancer remains a public-health concern that continues to threaten the welfare and well-being of women and the population as a whole. It is a known fact that nearly 99 percent of it is due to HPV.
Globally, cervical cancer is the third-most common cancer among women and the second-most frequent cause of cancer-related fatalities, accounting for nearly 300,000 deaths annually. In the Philippines, an estimated 6,617 new cancer patients are diagnosed with the disease. Hence, cervical cancer is ranked as the second-most prevalent cancer among women nationwide.
“HPV is responsible for the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Maria Corazon C. Dumlao, chief of the School Health Division of Bureau of Learners’ Support Services of the Department of Education (DepEd). “And while there are different ways to prevent women from developing cervical cancer, vaccination against HPV remains the primary prevention against cervical cancer.”
In 2013 the HPV vaccination was introduced through a community-based approach treatment that was piloted in selected schools in Cebu and Baguio City, covering 10,000 female students aged 10 to 14 years old, with a three-dose regimen of HPV.
Through the collaboration of the DepEd and the DOH, it was then included in the community-based immunization program in 2015, benefiting all the 9-year-old female Grade 4 learners in public elementary schools on the 20 priority provinces and cities with high poverty incidence.
To further strengthen the mobilization and impact of this initiative, both state agencies have agreed to shift its implementing procedure to a school-based immunization, which will now cover more than 50 provinces and cities across the country.
This is in line with the government’s objective to ensure successful implementation of the drive by targeting schools, where the demographic of intended beneficiaries are more readily and easily located.
“Shifting the HPV vaccination from a community-based to a school-based approach enables us to provide vaccination services to a ‘catch’ population. We will be able to reach high coverage and dropout rate will be minimized. School-health settings will provide good opportunities to integrate vaccine delivery with other health interventions, like health information and warnings against tobacco and drug use,” Ubial said.
For its kickoff, the DOH, together with the DepEd and the Department of Interior and Local Government held the inaugural vaccination at Addition Hills Integrated School, Mandaluyong City, involving around 180 Grade 4 female students. More than 8,000 schoolers from the 22 public schools in the city will be given free HPV vaccination, each getting two shots of immunization at an interval of six months.
“Making modern health-care solutions more readily available for people has always been one of the foremost thrust of our local government, especially when it comes to preventing unnecessary suffering. Hence, we fully support the HPV vaccination program,” Mandaluyong City Mayor Carmelita Abalos said.
Rep. Alexandria P. Gonzales of the Lone District of Mandaluyong City further underscored the significance of vaccination in upholding health and quality of life for the family.
“Women have always been at the heart of the Filipino family and society. They are our mothers, sisters and daughters. We must ensure their protection against diseases such as cervical cancer. Bringing the vaccines in schools, where the target beneficiaries are gathered, helps in intensifying the effort,” she said.
Before the project’s launch, community-preparation activities, like series of orientation, were conducted for the parents and guardians of Grade 4 female pupils from all the public schools in Mandaluyong City. These activities focused on providing parents and guardian and other stakeholders with basic information on HPV, its related diseases and vaccine.
Six other cities in Metro Manila will also be benefited from this program, including Caloocan, Valenzuela, Marikina, Taguig, Pasay and Quezon City.
According to DOH Undersecretary Gerardo V. Bayugo, this program is helpful because it could help the public save money by taking the vaccination rather than be burdened by the disease that could cost them almost half-a-million-peso in treatment.
“The cost is low. Let’s say it’s close to P2,000 per vaccination. But the cost for the treatment is as much as P500,000,” he noted. “Truly, vaccination is more cost effective in saving money and in confronting this kind of disease.”
For the continuous roll out of the HPV vaccination drive of the DOH, Bayugo revealed that the agency has proposed around P400 million for next year. The health department, he added, spent around P528 million last year for the procurement of vaccines now being distributed to local government unit beneficiaries.