The human papillomavirus (HPV) remains one of the leading causes of disease worldwide. While HPV infection is an established cause of cervical cancer, it can also be responsible for other diseases such as vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and genital warts and anal cancer.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, with an estimated 604,127 new cases and 341,831 deaths in 2020. Approximately 7,897 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually in the Philippines, with 4,052 deaths from cervical cancer reported annually. Not surprisingly, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the Philippines.
Although these numbers are alarming, there is hope: cervical cancer is a vaccine-preventable disease, and numerous vaccines exist that prevent infection with the disease-causing HPV.
School-based vaccination, an early protection against HPV infection
In a multi-stakeholder collaboration, the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Education (DepEd) and local government of Caloocan City in partnership with healthcare company MSD in the Philippines organized a school-based vaccination event titled “Sa Aking Paglaki , Walang HPV” at the elementary school Andres Bonifacio on October 19, 2022.
The event was organized pursuant to DepEd Memorandum #173, 2017 Series, also known as Inclusion of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination in School-Based Immunization Program, and DOH Division Memorandum #2015-0316 , also known as “Guidelines for HPV Vaccination”.
The School-Based Immunization Program (SBIP) aims to protect school-age children from vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2015, the DOH rolled out the HPV vaccination program in public schools nationwide. It has since been extended to 4th grade school students aged 9 to 13 to protect them from HPV infection, cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases. This age group benefits most from the vaccination program as they have not yet been exposed to HPV, which is usually caused by sexual activity.
For the 2022-2023 academic year, the DOH has procured 1.2 million doses of HPV vaccines that will benefit 600,000 students across the country. And with the return to face-to-face teaching, it is only timely and prudent to reintroduce the HPV vaccination program to protect our students from HPV infection, cervical cancer, and other diseases caused by HPV.
In Caloocan City alone, public schools plan to vaccinate 12,000 fourth graders ages 9 to 13. Caloocan City is an excellent example of how multiple stakeholders can work together to implement a school-based immunization program.
As we continue to address the challenges of the current pandemic, we must also continue to raise awareness of other diseases, such as cervical cancer. With the SBI program, we hope to prepare our children to physically return to our schools. Therefore, we must educate parents and other stakeholders about the value of vaccination for our young people and continue to protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases now and in the future.
Strengthening cooperation between different stakeholders
The HPV vaccination launch in Caloocan City brought together various stakeholders from national and local government, including representatives from the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Caloocan LGU.
Key members of the local community, including officials from the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) and parents of vaccine recipients, also attended the event and participated in presentations to raise awareness about health and disease. More than 300 people attended the event, including the 200 Year 4 students from the Andres Bonifacio Primary School, who attended the ceremonial vaccination accompanied by their parents and guardians.
Ahead of the event, representatives from various stakeholders pledged to support public health through the “Kalasag ng Kalusugan” commitment exercise. “Kalasag ng Kalusugan”, which literally means “health shield”, reflects the commitment of local and national government and the local community to strengthen the public’s “health shield” through vaccination.
Learn more about HPV and how to prevent HPV infection through vaccination. Ask your school nurse about the DOH’s school-based HPV vaccination program. Together, let’s reinforce the value of vaccination as a fundamental right of every child and that this important public health intervention can lead to a brighter and brighter future for them.
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