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‘We must act now’: Stakeholders call for urgent action to eliminate cervical cancer in PH

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We Must Act Now. That’s the resounding call of stakeholders at the 1st Philippine Cervical Cancer Elimination Summit, titled “One Community Against HPV,” to address the urgent need for accelerated efforts to achieve a cervical cancer-free Philippines.

Cervical cancer elimination in the Philippines is indeed possible if the country can meet its 90-70-90 targets based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global strategy. This goal rests on three key pillars: vaccinating 90% of girls with the HPV vaccine by age 15, screening 70% of women with high-performance tests by ages 35-45, and treating 90% of women with pre-cancer and invasive cancer.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is severely lagging behind these targets, with only 4% of the target cohort having received their first dose of the HPV vaccine and a mere 1% of the country’s population completing the recommended doses.

“Based on mathematical models, the Philippines is set to achieve cervical cancer elimination between 2071 and 2098,” said Ms. Frances Ngo of the UP National Institutes of Health (NIH). “This model will not work if we are going to maintain our status quo; we need to be on track of our 90-70-90 targets if we’re going to eliminate cervical cancer within this century.”

Lives behind numbers

Ms. Frances Ngo from UP-NIH with co-panelists Dr. John Wong from EpiMetrics and Ms. Eden Lucero, cancer survivor discussing the NIH’s mathematical metrics guide for Cervical Cancer Elimination.

Experts at the summit emphasized that meeting these targets is crucial to reducing cervical cancer incidence to less than 4 per 100,000 women, which is the threshold for elimination. They stressed that urgent action is needed, as cervical cancer remains a significant public health threat in the Philippines, claiming 12 lives daily and putting almost 40 million Filipino women at risk.

This tragic reality doesn’t have to be the case since 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can easily be prevented through HPV immunization of women as early as 9 years old.

Race against time

HPV vaccines are most effective when administered before exposure to the virus, which typically occurs through sexual activity. By vaccinating girls and young women early, preferably before they become sexually active, the Philippines can protect its women against the most common cancer-causing HPV genotypes.

Dr. John Wong, Chair and President of Epimetrics, highlights the urgent need to immunize women and speed up the awareness drive in the country. Like any virus, HPV strains adapt and evolve. Although vaccines targeting cancer-causing strains of HPV are now available, Dr. Wong warns that delaying vaccination efforts could lead to the emergence of new, potentially more dangerous HPV strains.

“We need to administer vaccines quickly. As time passes, the genotypes change,” said Dr. Wong. “Our current nonavalentvaccine is effective, but who knows, maybe in the next 9 years, it will be difficult. There’s really an urgency to accelerate our efforts.”

Nothing is impossible

Mayor Chrislyn Abadilla explained how Banna, Ilocos Norte achieved a 90% HPV vaccination rate among their eligible groups.

Mayor Chrislyn Abadilla of Banna, Ilocos Norte, demonstrated to the summit that achieving a 90% HPV vaccination rate is possible, with her municipality successfully vaccinated 91.16% of the total cohort of girls aged 9 to 14 years old– making Banna the first municipality in the Philippines to achieve the target.

“It is about pushing ourselves to the limit for this health advocacy for our people,” said Mayor Chrislyn Adabilla. “If a small town in Ilocos Norte could do it, any other municipality could do it too. Other cities have more resources and better manpower.”

By allocating the necessary resources for healthcare advocacy and unwavering political will, Mayor Abadilla and her team were able to overcome challenges and ensure that the majority of their constituents were protected against cervical cancer.

Whole-of-society approach

In the Philippines, achieving the 90-70-90 targets will require a whole-of-society approach, emphasizing that the fight against cervical cancer is not just the responsibility of the health sector but requires the commitment of the National Government, local government units, private sectors, and the public.

Stakeholders at the summit expressed their commitment to the battle towards cervical cancer elimination. The Department of Health pledged to strengthen its cervical cancer prevention and control programs. At the same time, local government units vowed to improve access to HPV vaccination and screening services in their communities. Healthcare providers committed to increasing awareness and uptake of these services, and patient advocates and civil society organizations promised to support elimination efforts.

The 1st Philippine Cervical Cancer Elimination Summit may have concluded, but the real battle of turning commitments into action has just begun. The Philippines’ journey towards elimination will require sustained efforts from all sectors of society, but with unity and determination, a future where no Filipina has to suffer from cancer is within reach.


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