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Health advocates worry about HPV vaccination in August

MANILA, Philippines – The health department will roll out in August an adolescent immunization program that includes free vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), but advocates are worried not enough informed discussions have been made about the virus that causes cervical cancer.

"My concern is that nag-uumpisa pa lang tayong pag-usapan [ito], pero iro-roll out na ng Department of Health [ang immunization program]," said Ana Maria Nemenzo, national coordinator of WomanHealth Philippines, during a forum on cervical cancer on Wednesday, May 13. 

(My concern is that we're just starting to talk about this, but the Department of Health will already roll out the immunization program.)

While she is not against the HPV vaccine, Nemenzo said it is a "very complex" issue that needs more discussion.

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

In August, the Department of Health (DOH) will give free vaccines to 300,000 female, grade 4 students in the 20 poorest provinces in the country. The HPV vaccine is recommended before young girls become sexually active.

Following the recommendation of the World Health Organization, the DOH will administer two doses of the HPV vaccine within 6 months. But before students can receive the vaccine, they need to get parental consent. 

Educate students, parents

For Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) national chairperson Elizabeth Angsioco, consent will be a critical issue in the implementation of the program. (QUIZ: What's your cervical cancer risk profile?)

"How many of these parents really understand what they are signing? When we speak of consent, make sure parents know what they are consenting to…[It will be] good to go to communities and involve the parents there," she said.

Angsioco also emphasized the need for informed choice before administering the free vaccines.

"I’m not against immunization but I hope that requisite education should be done before this immunization."

During the forum led by the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, some of the participants also questioned why Metro Manila, despite its large urban poor population, is excluded from the list of areas that will receive the free vaccination.

Minerva Vinluan, the program manager of DOH's National Adolescent Health and Development Program, said they will first focus on 20 provinces due to "limited funds."

The priority provinces of the department’s Kalusugan Pangkalahatan (Universal Healthcare) Roadmap are:

The DOH intends to increase the coverage in the coming years.

The school-based immunization program that will begin in August will also include vaccines against tetanus for students in grades 1 and 7. – Rappler.com

Vaccine and ribbon images from Shutterstock

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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