Human papillomavirus (HPV) remains a leading cause of diseases worldwide. While HPV infection is an established cause of cervical cancer, it may also be responsible for other diseases such as vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, penile cancer in men, as well as genital warts and anal cancer.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide, with an estimated 604,127 new cases and 341,831 deaths in 2020. In the Philippines, around 7,897 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually, with 4,052 deaths due to cervical cancer reported annually. Not surprisingly, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women in the Philippines.
While these numbers are alarming, there is hope: cervical cancer is a vaccine-preventable disease, and there are numerous vaccines that prevent infection from disease-causing HPV.
School-based immunization, an early safeguard against HPV infection
In a multistakeholder collaboration, the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Education (DepEd), and the Local Government of Caloocan City, in partnership with healthcare company MSD in the Philippines, organized a school-based vaccination event titled “Sa Aking Paglaki, Walang HPV” at Andres Bonifacio Elementary School on October 19, 2022.
The event was organized pursuant to DepEd Memorandum No. 173, series of 2017, also known as the “Inclusion of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination in School-Based Immunization Program,” as well as DOH Department Memorandum No. 2015-0316, also known as “Guidelines in the Implementation of HPV Vaccination.”
The School-based Immunization Program (SBIP) aims to protect school-aged children against vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2015, the DOH introduced the HPV vaccination program in public schools nationwide.
It has since expanded to benefit female Grade 4 students aged 9 to 13 years old to help protect them against HPV infection, cervical cancer, and other HPV-related diseases. This age group benefits the most from the vaccination program as they are not yet exposed to HPV, which usually results from sexual activity.
For Academic Year 2022 to 2023, the DOH has procured 1.2 million doses of HPV vaccines, which will benefit 600,000 students nationwide. And with the return to face-to-face classes, it is only timely and prudent to reinstate the HPV vaccination program to help protect our students from HPV infection, cervical cancer, and other diseases caused by HPV.
In Caloocan City alone, public schools aim to vaccinate 12,000 female Grade 4 students aged 9 to 13 years old. Caloocan City serves as an excellent example of how multiple stakeholder groups can work together to implement a school-based immunization program.
As we continue to hurdle the challenges of the current pandemic, we also need to continue to increase awareness of other diseases, such as cervical cancer. With the SBI Program, we hope to prepare our children as they physically go back to our schools.
Thus, we need to increase the awareness of parents and other stakeholders on the value of vaccination for our adolescents and to continue to protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases now and in the future.
Strengthening collaboration among different stakeholder groups
The HPV vaccination launch in Caloocan City gathered various stakeholders from the national and local government such as representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Health, and Caloocan LGU.
Key members of the local community, including officers of the parent-teacher association (PTA) and parents of the vaccine beneficiaries, also attended the event and participated in health and disease awareness lectures.
More than 300 people attended the event, including the 200 female Grade 4 students from Andres Bonifacio Elementary School who participated in the ceremonial vaccination, accompanied by their parents and guardians.
Prior to the event, representatives from different stakeholder groups made their pledges to support public health through the “Kalasag ng Kalusugan” Commitment Exercise. “Kalasag ng Kalusugan,” which literally translates to “health shield,” reflects the commitment of the local and the national government, as well as the local community, to strengthen the public’s “health shield” through immunization.
Learn more about HPV and how to prevent HPV infection through vaccination. Ask your school nurse about the DOH’s school-based HPV immunization program. Together, let us reinforce the value of immunization as a basic right of every child and that this important healthcare intervention can lead them to a better and brighter future.###