The Cervical Cancer Prevention Network of the Philippines (CECAP) gathered healthcare professionals, medical societies, patient groups, and policymakers to discuss key developments and strategies in the road to eliminating human papillomavirus and cervical cancer in the country.
Themed “HPV-Free GOALS,” the 8th HPV Summit was focused on identifying current challenges and action points that should be undertaken by strong multi-stakeholder collaboration.
The HPV-Free GOALS outlined key pillars for addressing the healthcare burden posed by HPV. The pillars include the need for the public to “Get informed” in order to “Optimize strategies” for disease prevention. Likewise, the key pillars emphasize the need to provide patients with “Access to diagnostics and therapy” which is supported by a strong “Law implementation.” These, in essence, are needed to be able to “Secure the future for an HPV-free Philippines.”
As discussed in the summit, getting informed and being aware are the foremost steps to HPV prevention, as it is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. A large percentage of men and women will get at least one type of HPV in their lifetime, as the virus can be spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact and intercourse. Additionally, there is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. For instance, 99 percent of cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
CECAP, represented by its chairperson Dr. Cecilia Llave, continues to push the vital fact that cervical cancer is a vaccine-preventable disease and is one of the most treatable forms of cancer when diagnosed at its early stages.
“At the HPV Summit, we emphasize increasing awareness on HPV and improving access to HPV prevention and treatment. Prevention includes access to HPV vaccinations, early screening with pap smear or visual inspection with ascetic acid, and treatments for pre-cancerous lesions and cervical cancer in a single-visit approach,” said Dr. Llave.
The medical expert also strongly emphasized that vaccination is one of the optimal strategies in fighting HPV, citing that it has highly favorable benefits and very minimal side effects. “It is always better to protect and screen early than to diagnose late. Immediate investigations are undertaken should there be a rare event that major side effects occur,” she assured.
On the same note, Dr. Clarito Cairo, cancer program manager of the Department of Health, and a staunch advocate in the fight against cancer, elaborated on the DOH Roadmap to Cervical Cancer Elimination.
The roadmap, which begins from a healthy lifestyle campaign and goes on through a comprehensive program until its apex in 2040 with the ultimate goal of eliminating cervical cancer, also touches on information dissemination and vaccine confidence-building.
“The Department of Health prioritizes cervical cancer elimination by 2040. We also aim to ensure that the cervical cancer control program is well-established, institutionalized, and sustained by the year 2025,” said Dr. Cairo, echoing the DOH’s support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The Health department is committed to support immunization through its Expanded Program on Immunization, and through its willingness to provide easy access to cancer diagnostics and treatment.
Alongside the CECAP and DOH, medical societies, patient groups, and policymakers organized the HPV Summit as a venue to align efforts and programs in support of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA).
The law mandates PhilHealth to cover cancer screening, treatment, rehabilitation, pain management, and palliative care for all Filipino patients (especially those in high-risk and high population communities), and for all types and stages of cancer. The law also lobbies for the establishment of a Philippine Cancer Center and regional cancer centers, under the supervision of the DOH.
“The law can help further our research on HPV vaccination as well as support innovations and capacity-building on cervical cancer screening and treatment,” added Dr. Cairo.
With the patient voice at the heart of the creation of the NICCA, the HPV Summit brought to light the value of patient groups in the drafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations and in supporting the service delivery network of the new law.
Kara Alikpala, cancer survivor and co-founder of ICanServe Foundation, shared that one of the Cancer Coalition’s foremost goals was to push for the NICCA.
“We felt like we hit a dead end in the way we helped patients, so we needed government intervention because they had the muscle and the money for implementation. With the cancer law, hope is now going to be on the table for the cancer patient and their family,” said Alikpala.
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