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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Together for Health: Making a United Stand Against Cervical Cancer

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Cervical cancer can be prevented through vaccination against HPV—human papillomavirus, which causes about 99% of all cervical cancers—and regular screening. When diagnosed early and managed effectively, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer. Yet every year, out of the 8,549 Filipino women diagnosed with cervical cancer, 4,380 or more than half of them lose their lives. Every day, an estimated 12 Filipinas die of this disease—that means every two hours, a woman loses her fight against cervical cancer, and a family loses a loved one.

Understanding the burden of cervical cancer and to underscore the urgency of a concrete multi-sectoral action towards its elimination, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP)and healthcare company MSD in the Philippines organized a forum titled “Together for Health: Making a United Stand Against Cervical Cancer” on April 5, 2024.

Increased incidence, rising costs

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women,and among women between 15 and 44 years old in the Philippines. The same pattern is seen across the region; moreover, incidence and mortality of cervical cancer is increasing, based on a 2023 study by Economist Impact. Further, inconsistent adoption of national-level immunization and screening results in cervical cancer often being diagnosed too late, when health outcomes are not as good. 

Apart from the human cost, the economic burden of cervical cancer can be catastrophic. Patients are confronted with high out-of-pocket (OOP) healthcare expenditures, both direct (treatment and hospitalization, medicines, caregiving services) and indirect (loss of productivity and income generation). Cancer patients and their families go into debt—in fact, 7 out of 10 cancer patients in the country “drop out of treatment regimen” due to lack of funds. As cases rise, the burden on the government, which invests in cancer care infrastructure and provides cancer assistance to patients as mandated by law, is expected to double to PhP200 billion in the next two decades.

Intensifying efforts to eliminate cervical cancer

The Philippine government adheres to the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, which aims to achieve the following targets by 2030: 

• 90% of girls fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by the age of 15; 

• 70% of women screened with a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again, by the age of 45; and

• 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment (90% of women with precancer treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer managed).

Through the National Integrated Cancer Control Program (NICCP) Strategic Framework by the Department of Health (DOH) and its action priorities under the DOH Health Sector Strategy (2023-2028), the Philippine government has committed to intensifying its efforts and interventions directed towards prevention and early detection services to harness the impact of reducing the burden of cancer. Existing programs include providing free HPV vaccination (coupled with awareness campaigns increasing cancer literacy and dispelling the misconceptions that lead to vaccine hesitancy) and capacity building for primary care and specialist care providers throughout the country to improve delivery of cancer care services, including cervical cancer screening for women.

A multifaceted problem needs a multisectoral approach. Cervical cancer elimination entails the cooperation of various stakeholders, from the biopharmaceutical industry and private sector and other industry players, to patient organizations, to government agencies at the local and national level involved in the implementation of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, and even donor organizations focused on health promotion. 

“Collaboration and innovation to address the barriers and inequalities in cancer prevention and care is critical. Hopefully, with various sectors working together, we can develop and implement an integrated and holistic approach to cancer elimination, helping achieve our national targets for immunization, screening, and treatment,” said Teodoro Padilla, Executive Director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). “We in the biopharmaceutical industry consider ourselves as partners in nation-building, because a healthy citizenry is the backbone of a strong and inclusive economy.”

“Cervical cancer is not a death sentence; it is preventable and, if detected early, highly treatable. We need to continue promoting research-based information, prioritizing health education, and providing access to quality and affordable cancer care,” said Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines, indicating that women are then empowered to make the best choice about their health needs. “Our focus should be on placing women at the center, amplifying the voices of cervical cancer patients, and ensuring that we deliver best-in-class vaccines and the latest innovations in cancer care products and services within their reach.”

Through education, prevention, screening and treatment—and the appropriate investment provided to all three through multisectoral partnerships—it is possible to end cervical cancer as a public health problem, making generations of women and girls safe from the disease so that they live healthier, longer, and more productive lives. 

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