The pandemic threw into stark focus, the challenges facing health care systems, from public health education, resourcing, and crisis preparedness. It introduced a new urgency to make health care more accessible to all patients.
As a leading pharmaceutical company, MSD in the Philippines is committed to being ‘Inventing for Life’ by championing a health care system that is both inclusive and proactive, according to MSD President and Managing Director Andreas Riedel.
What does an inclusive health care system mean? Even as groundbreaking medicines are enabling millions of people to live longer, gaping inequality persists.
“MSD’s role is first and foremost to discover and develop innovative medicines and vaccines that treat and prevent unmet medical needs. But we recognize that we have a bigger role to play to ensure our innovations are accessible and affordable to those who need them,” Riedel says.
He explains that addressing healthcare inequities requires pursuing multi-stakeholder collaborations and initiating efforts such as continuous patient education while ensuring the representation of marginalized sectors.
“We are partnering with all stakeholders to create sustainable solutions that help facilitate access, optimize patient outcomes, and promote innovation.”
Building healthy communities through vaccination
MSD is one with the Department of Health’s National Immunization Program and other cross-sectoral campaigns that promote the life-course approach to vaccination with the end goal of improving community health and wellbeing.
“One of the critical areas we need to work on more is addressing vaccine hesitancy because we want to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses,” Michael Blanch, Market Access and Corporate Affairs Director of MSD in the Philippines, says.
“MSD in the Philippines works alongside the government, NGOs, the private sector, and the healthcare community with our Bakuna Muna campaign to help strengthen their health infrastructure and disease prevention programs to bolster public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”
“Through Bakuna Muna, we help enlighten and enable Filipinos to stay up-to-date on recommended vaccines so they can be adequately protected.”
Among vaccine-preventable diseases that pose a threat to Filipinos are HPV (Human papillomavirus) and pneumonia. A staggering 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV.
Cervical cancer ranks as the 2nd leading cause of female cancer in the Philippines and about 7,897 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually in the country. At the same time, pneumonia remains a leading cause of morbidity among vulnerable populations in the country which includes the elderly.
MSD also supports public elementary school-based immunization (SBI) initiatives with programs like Back to BakUNA and Sa Aking Paglaki, Walang HPV. The latter highlights the urgency of early immunization, especially for young women before they are exposed to the virus that causes cervical cancer.
For senior citizens, MSD spearheads the Bakunado si Lolo at Lola, Iwas Pulmonya mass vaccination campaign which includes disease awareness and prevention lectures.
“Vaccination programs are necessary investments that would greatly benefit our current and future generations. However, vaccines can only work when people get vaccinated,” Blanch explains.
“That’s why we are engaging with national and local partners to help build a vaccine-confident nation and contribute to the development and sustainability of vaccination programs to achieve and maintain high vaccine coverage rates.”
More Hopeful Tomorrows for Filipino Cancer Patients
Even as significant attention and efforts continue to be focused on the lingering challenges of the pandemic, Blanch explains that MSD is committed to advocating for ongoing healthcare challenges such as the management of non-communicable diseases like cancer.
Cancer, one of the four non-communicable diseases, continues to be the leading cause of mortality worldwide and is the 3rd leading cause of death in the Philippines. In fact, 189 out of every 100,000 Filipinos are stricken with cancer, and every hour, four Filipinos die of cancer.
“For example, through sustained disease awareness and education, the public can better understand the consequences of delaying cancer care and screenings. And more importantly, in an informed way, citizens can learn to take charge of their own health by taking a proactive approach to preventing or managing diseases versus having a reactive approach.”
Aiming to proactively assist Filipino patients, their caregivers, and survivors of the disease, MSD spearheads Hope from Within (HFW), a multi-stakeholder cancer advocacy campaign that brings together various perspectives while putting the cancer patient front and center of awareness-building and disease-fighting efforts.
The campaign advocates for increased access to innovative treatment options like immunotherapy that may improve patients’ overall survival and quality of life.
The emotional burden associated with the diagnosis of cancer is often exacerbated by the financial burden sustained by the patient and the family.
That is why HFW also calls for the proper implementation of and funding allocation through the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) necessary to mitigate the cancer burden and provide more equitable and rational access to cancer care in the country.
“If properly funded and fully implemented, the NICCA will give better support to cancer patients, especially those from the underserved, throughout every step of the cancer patient journey: from diagnosis to having access to treatment options and receiving post-cancer care.”
Currently, HFW is supporting a petition for the full implementation of the NICCA, which seeks to help more cancer patients receive quality and holistic healthcare services.
The public can also participate in this petition by visiting https://www.change.org/p/department-of-health-sign-the– petition-to-fully-implement-the-national-integrated-cancer-control-act-nicca-now.
Strengthening the COVID-19 Response
MSD has been focusing efforts where they can have a significant impact, especially during the onset of the pandemic. One of MSD’s recent innovations is molnupiravir, an anti-viral drug used in treating mild to moderate COVID-19.
MSD entered into a voluntary licensing agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) to facilitate affordable global access for the drug. This agreement helped create broad access for molnupiravir use in 105 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
In the Philippines, molnupiravir has been made available in the Philippines through Compassionate Special Permit (CSP) granted by the Food and Drug Administration.
Currently, there is an ongoing clinical trial to evaluate molnupiravir for post-exposure prophylaxis of COVID-19 infection. The global study is enrolling individuals who are at least 18 years of age and reside in the same household as someone with confirmed COVID-19 infection with symptoms.
In the Philippines, Asian Hospital and Medical Center (AHMC) and Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC) are the clinical trial sites for the study.
Addressing Prevailing Health Issues
Diabetes cases in the Philippines continue to be a pressing issue. It is now the 5th leading cause of death among Filipinos. To empower Filipino patients living with diabetes, MSD steers the Kontrolado Ko, Diabetes Ko campaign which promotes lifestyle changes, early detection, regular check-ups, and medication adherence as vital measures to effectively manage the condition and improve health outcomes.
MSD is also in partnership with Mercury Drug Corporation with its Get Well at Mercury Drug – Diabetes Care. This patient-centered program aims to ensure continuity of care at the pharmacy level by providing easy access to diabetes products as well as free counseling services with pharmacists trained in diabetes care and management.
There is also the ongoing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This phenomenon happens when bacteria naturally develop defenses against antibiotics, making infections harder to treat and medical procedures riskier.
That’s why MSD has trained its sights to help combat AMR through conducting multiple ongoing clinical trials addressing bacterial infections; launching four antibiotics as new treatment options or with expanded indications around the world; funding more than 40 AMS (antimicrobial stewardship) programs across the globe; and, collecting more than 10,000 isolates from 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region as part of the Study for Monitoring Antimicrobial Resistance Trends—one of the world’s largest AMR surveillance studies.
Towards a Healthier Philippines
For generations, great scientific innovations have been achieved as a result of research and development efforts, but there is still much work to be done to ensure greater access to healthcare, especially among disadvantaged Filipinos.
“The value of medical innovation can only be fully realized when patients experience the full benefit of these innovations,” Riedel says.
Riedel adds that MSD aims not just to be a healthcare provider, but a partner in the patient journey.
“With unwavering focus, MSD collaborates with stakeholders across different sectors to find sustainable solutions – from information dissemination of relevant medical innovations to equitable access to quality healthcare. After all, only with a healthier, inclusive model of healthcare can Filipinos have more than a fighting chance to be truly protected against current and future diseases.”