In a recent budget hearing, Senator Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito interpellated the Department of Health (DOH) in a strategic discussion on anti-cervical cancer or human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
As the driving force behind key healthcare laws, including the Universal Health Care Law and the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), Ejercito’s inquiry emphasized the need for accessible cancer prevention measures.
Cervical cancer, predominantly caused by HPV, claims the lives of 11 Filipinas daily. Underlining the global recognition of HPV vaccination as a vital preventative tool, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire appealed for an additional budget of P400 million to extend HPV vaccination coverage to grade four students studying in public schools.
The current DOH budget for HPV vaccines covers 15 regions excluding Region 2 and MIMAROPA.
“Cervical cancer ranks as the second most common cancer among Filipino women. To address this issue, we have initiated HPV immunization program for our grade four students, targeting those aged nine to 14. Currently, this program is being implemented in 15 regions, excluding Region II and Region IVB. We are seeking additional funding of over 400 million to extend this initiative nationwide and provide HPV immunization to all grade four students nationwide,” said Usec. Vergeire.
To ensure vaccine coverage of school-aged girls, DOH collaborated with the Department of Education (DepEd) to enhance HPV vaccine uptake among grade four students aged 9 to 14.
Senator Pia Cayetano, Senior Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, recognized the vaccine uptake following the efforts of two national agencies.
She mentioned the success of the HPV vaccine rollout in her native Taguig City and offered suggestions to address vaccine hesitancy.
“Simple information materials will be helpful particularly to those who require a second dose of vaccine,” said Senator Cayetano. “If you (DOH) work with DepEd, they will be the ones to help educate the parents of these students.”
In 2023, the DOH procured 1 million HPV vaccine doses, targeting 500,000 girls in the same age group, covering nearly 38% of the national school-aged population. The DOH’s appeal to Congress aims to secure more funding for the HPV immunization program.
However, a worrisome reduction in the 2024 National Expenditure Program allocates only 750,000 HPV vaccine doses, falling short of the annual target to vaccinate one million Grade 4 public school girls.
This shortfall could jeopardize the health of thousands of young girls, reliant on government-supported HPV vaccine programs to safeguard against cervical cancer.
In the ongoing battle against cervical cancer, Ejercito’s advocacy for accessible healthcare aligns with the DOH’s mission to minimize the financial burden on Filipino cancer patients and secure a healthier future.