700,000 girls to get cervical cancer protection in schools

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Around 700,000 female public school students in 47 provinces are set to receive free vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a virus that causes cervical cancer.

On Monday, August 7, the Department of Health (DOH) widened the coverage of its school-based HPV immunization program to female public school students aged 9 to 12 years old in 47 provinces. Previously, the program only covered the 20 poorest provinces.

"Our target is 700,000 public school students nationwide at the cost of P1,300 per child," said Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo in Filipino.

The expanded anti-HPV vaccination program was launched at the Addition Hills Integrated School in Mandaluyong City, where 180 Grade 4 pupils were given the quadrivalent HPV vaccine with consent from their parents.

The schoolgirls will be getting the second dosage of the vaccine in 6 months. The quadrivalent HPV vaccine protects against 4 types of HPV – types 6, 11, 16, and 18. HPV 16 and 18 account for 70% of cervical cancer cases, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women. Every year, the Philippines reports at least 6,000 cervical cancer cases and 12 deaths.

VACCINATED. Mandaluyong Representative Alexandria Gonzales (5th from left), Mayor Carmelita Abalos (6th from left), and Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo (8th from left) pose with schoolgirls after their vaccination. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

VACCINATED. Mandaluyong Representative Alexandria Gonzales (5th from left), Mayor Carmelita Abalos (6th from left), and Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo (8th from left) pose with schoolgirls after their vaccination.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

Bayugo said the DOH will use the remaining vaccines it bought using the P650-million fund allocated in its budget this year.

The DOH is now asking the 17th Congress to approve its proposed P164.3-billion budget for 2018, P400 million of which will go to the school-based immunization program.

The DOH had closely coordinated with Mandaluyong City Mayor Carmelita Abalos and Representative Alexandria Gonzales, who had long been aiming to launch an immunization program for students in her district. 

The immunization program was also expanded with help from the Department of Education and the Department of the Interior and Local Government. 

Bayugo encouraged parents to avail of the free vaccination because of its cost-effectiveness in dealing with the disease.

"The cost is ano sabihin natin (about) P2,000 per vaccination... And the cost for the treatment is as much as P500,000. So definitely, the vaccination is more cost-effective in saving money when confronting these kinds of diseases," he said. 

Prevention better than cure

During the launch, Tehess Alvarez watched her 9-year-old daughter Alyssa get vaccinated against cervical cancer. 

Alvarez said school teachers had first oriented parents about what the vaccine is for, then gave them parent's consent forms before including their children's names in the list to be vaccinated.  

"In-explain ko sa kanya na mabuti para maintindihan niya. Atsaka maraming nagsasabi baka raw delikado. Sabi ko 'di naman ibibigay ng DOH 'yan kung delikado sa bata, 'di ba?" said Alvarez. 

(I explained it to her well so she'd understand. Many were asking if it's going to be dangerous. I told them the DOH won't be administering it if it were dangerous, right?)

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. Tehess Alvarez accompanies her daughter Alyssa during vaccination day. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. Tehess Alvarez accompanies her daughter Alyssa during vaccination day.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

She gave the go-signal for Alyssa's vaccination to lessen her daughter's chances of getting the disease. 

"Kailangan ingatan niya 'yung sarili niya para 'di siya magkaroon ng gano'ng sakit. Kasi sa kababaihan, delikado talaga 'yung sarili natin. Tayo lahat 'yung nagpapasan nung hirap," said Alvarez. 

(She needs to take care of herself so she would not get the disease. It's hard for us women. We're always carrying the burden.) 

Still, Bayugo said HPV and cervical cancer prevention do not stop there. He advised women to have regular checkups.  

"Hindi po tayo dapat mag-rely lang sa bakuna sa mga kababaihan, ano? 'May bakuna na ako. Sigurado na akong ligtas.' Dapat pa rin po nagpapa-examine tayo lagi. 'Yung mga kasama sa mas matandang panahon, [dapat may] pap smear po. Hanggang ngayon po, ginagawa pa rin 'yan," said Bayugo. 

(We should not just rely on vaccines for women, okay? "I've been vaccinated. I'm surely safe." We should have ourselves examined. For the older women, get a pap smear. That's still being done today.)

The DOH undersecretary also suggested women undergo visual inspection with acetic acid for any signs of cervical cancer. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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