Health Awareness

Advocates call for ‘Kalayaan ng Kababaihan mula sa Kanser’

August 9, 2022

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Filipino women have a long history of fighting for freedom. From the colonial era to contemporary times, they have demonstrated the strength associated with this pursuit. They strive for freedom of speech, freedom of suffrage, and equal rights.

However, as long as diseases like cancer can take hold of their lives, hostage, they are at its mercy, and therefore not completely free. In fact, breast and cervical cancers are among the most common and fatal cancers in women. In 2020 alone, more than 10,000 Filipinas died of breast cancer and more than 4,000 lost their battle with cervical cancer.

That is why, in line with the Independence Day celebration last June, Hope from Within (HFW), a multi-stakeholder cancer advocacy spearheaded by MSD in the Philippines, organized the “Kalayaan ng Kababaihan mula sa Kanser” Women’s Cancers Summit.
The event brought attention to the plight of women afflicted with cancer, empower them, and amplify their voices as they battle the disease head-on.
Hosting the event is Ayn Bernos, a Tiktok content creator and one of the influential voices in women empowerment on social media. Following a breast cancer scare last year, Ayn underwent surgery to remove a lump on her breast. She gave a voice to the concerns, fears, and hopes of Filipina women who sought liberation from these illnesses.

Understanding triple-negative breast cancer
There are many types of breast cancer, one of which is triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). It is considered aggressive cancer because it grows quickly, is more likely to have spread at the time it’s found, and is more likely to come back after treatment than other types of breast cancer. This cancer tends to be more common in women younger than age 40.
Medical oncologist Dr. Josephine Tolentino discussed the signs and symptoms of TNBC, preventive tips as well as diagnostics tests that will help patients identify TNBC. Dr. Tolentino will also highlight the role of a multidisciplinary team (MDT) in providing holistic treatment and care for patients.
The MDT can include a medical, surgical, and radiation oncologist, a pathologist, a radiologist, a breast surgeon, a psychiatrist, and more depending on the cancer condition.
In multidisciplinary care, instead of benefitting from only one expert’s medical judgment, a team of specialists will convene to discuss the most optimal treatment approach for the patient depending on their prognosis. Based on a study, patients with an organized MDT even saw increased 5-year survival rates.
Patients will also learn about several treatment options available for breast cancer which may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments.
In addition to the medical expert, breast cancer survivors Dr. Gia Sison and Jaymee Joaquin shared their personal stories and give hope to cancer patients, while cancer advocate and celebrity Dianne Medina narrated the journey of her mom who succumbed to breast cancer.
Guest artists including R&B singer/composer Quest, and indie-pop duo Leanne and Naara, provided inspiration through their music.

Committed to eliminating cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. Almost all cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
Although most infections with HPV resolve spontaneously and cause no symptoms, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer in women.
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed its global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.
WHO targets: 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15, 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again by the age of 45, and 90% of women with pre-cancer treated and with invasive cancer managed.
Dr. Efren Domingo, Vice President of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, informed attendees of the importance of screening, vaccination, and available treatment options for cervical cancer patients.

Providing healthcare access to Filipinas
Equitable access to quality cancer care has been the dream of cancer patients, survivors, and their families. With the passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) in 2019, the government can strengthen cancer control in the country, increase cancer survivorship and reduce the burden on families and cancer patients.
This landmark health legislation was designed to provide cancer patients with quality health care services, increase access to innovative treatment options, and provide their families with financial risk protection, among other cancer-relevant items.
Dr. Clarito Cairo, Program Manager for Cancer of the Department of Health (DOH) will share updates on the current and upcoming programs of the DOH that provide cancer care assistance and support to patients. Joining Cairo in this segment is Dr. Cecilia Llave, technical adviser of SUCCESS Jhpiego who will provide insights from the ground regarding cancer care at the community level.
Cancer patients and care groups continue to advocate for the swift and complete implementation of healthcare laws in the Philippines. HFW is committed to renewing hope and reinforcing the fight for Filipino cancer patients through timely and medical-professional-backed information on navigating the cancer patient journey. Resources can be accessed through the Hope From Within website and Facebook page.

Cancer can affect anyone. Each one has a role to support cancer patients and survivors by signing the petition on the urgent implementation of the NICCA, which provides benefits that are needed for their treatment and recovery while allowing them a better quality of life. Make your signature matter. Sign the 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.

This article was originally published in MANILASTANDARD.NET.

Responsibility

MSD in the Philippines recognized by Kythe Foundation

August 8, 2022

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Leading healthcare company, MSD in the Philippines, was recognized as Corporate Volunteer Group of the Year by Kythe Foundation during their virtual Araw ng Parangal at Pasasalamat. 

The event recognizes and celebrates the exemplary volunteers, affiliates, partners, parent leaders, and staff members that continue to support Kythe Foundation and its mission of improving the quality of life among hospitalized children with cancer and other chronic illnesses. The event also marks Kythe Foundation’s 30th anniversary.  

“It is a day for us to appreciate and honor our volunteers’ dedicated efforts. It is a day to showcase how they make a difference,” says Dra. Angie Sievert-Fernandez, Executive Director of Kythe Foundation, during her opening remarks. “Volunteers may come in different ages, with different skills and backgrounds, yet what they all have in common is a giving heart and an attitude of service.” 

MSD

Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director, received this award on behalf of MSD in the Philippines. “I would like to congratulate Kythe Foundation for 30 years of providing strong community support for children with cancer all over the Philippines,” says Riedel during his award acceptance speech. “We at MSD in the Philippines are honored and humbled to receive the Corporate Volunteer Group of the Year Award for the volunteerism of our employees in collaboration with Kythe, to help address the fears of children who are going through cancer, especially during this pandemic.” 

“This recognition inspires us to continue working towards our purpose of saving and improving lives and bringing hope to Filipino cancer patients throughout their journey,” adds Riedel.

MSD gives back 

MSD employees in the Philippines and around the world are passionate about giving back to their respective communities. “Giving back to our communities is at the core of MSD’s company culture,” shares Michael Blanch, Market Access and Corporate Affairs Director, MSD in the Philippines. “Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, our employees’ passion, collaboration, and commitment to the communities we serve never wavered, allowing us to continue our legacy of service for more than 25 years.”  

At MSD, employees are empowered to give back and help build healthier communities by engaging in activities where they can share their skills, time, and resources for the benefit of others. Every year, MSD employees can donate their time and talent to help improve the health and well-being of communities through notable programs such as MSD Gives Back, MSD for Mothers, and the MSD Fellowship for Global Health, just to name a few volunteering activities.

To foster a culture of giving back, MSD employees can take 40 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer with eligible non-profit organizations and donate their professional skills through virtual, short-term projects through a skills-based volunteer program.

Giving back amid the pandemic

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, MSD employees in the Philippines supported Kythe Foundation through “5X5: MSD Gives Back,” comprising five different activities launched over the course of five months and focused on reaching pediatric cancer patients across the country.

From July to November 2021, “5X5: MSD Gives Back” provided different skills-based volunteering opportunities for MSD employees in the Philippines, as well as the opportunity to sponsor and organize Celebrate Life e-Parties for the Kythe kids from various health care centers in support of Kythe’s Child Life Program. Skills-based volunteering opportunities included virtual storytelling, arts and crafts, science experiments, as well as mindfulness and yoga sessions with the Kythe kids.

“Thank you to our givers, our volunteers. We thank you for all that you do. Kythe will not be able to serve as many children, have an impact on as many families, nor grow the seeds of change without you. You help Kythe live its mission,” adds Sievert-Fernandez.

This article was originally published in INQUIRER.net.

Health Awareness

MSD holds ‘JAB Well Done!’ webinar about pneumococcal vaccination

August 5, 2022

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In line with its commitment to educate the general public about the importance of immunization against pneumonia, MSD in the Philippines, together with the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) and Philstar.com, organized a webinar on the importance of pneumonia vaccination titled Jab Well Done! Usapang Bakuna Kontra Pulmonya last July 29.

In this webinar, a panel of experts joined forces to bust long-standing myths about pneumonia prevention and immunization.

“We use our lungs every day. We cannot breathe and we cannot exist without our lungs,” says Dr. Rontgene Solante, one of the leading specialists in vaccination and adult infectious diseases in the country. No wonder one of the leading causes of death worldwide primarily impacts our lungs—pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a leading cause of death and hospitalization among the elderly and in people living with long-term chronic diseases. In the Philippines alone, pneumonia was the seventh leading cause of death in 2021.

Pneumonia also tops the list of illnesses that the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) processes claims and reimbursements annually, added Solante, who is also the head of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Unit of San Lazaro Hospital and a member of the Vaccine Expert Panel of the Department of Health (DOH). 

“While pneumonia is among the leading causes of death, it is also a vaccine-preventable disease,” Bryan Posadas, national program manager of the Pharmacy-Based Immunization Program of the Philippine Pharmacists Association (PPhA), shared.

COVID-19 and pneumonia are often referred to as the “deadly duo,” as COVID-19 is now a primary risk factor for pneumococcal pneumonia and invasive pneumococcal disease. As such, pneumococcal vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic has become more critical than ever.

Vaccination is one of the most vital and cost-effective tools available in health care to help prevent infectious diseases like pneumonia. However, vaccine awareness and availability do not immediately translate to immunization, explained Dr. Kim Patrick Tejano, program manager of the National Immunization Program (NIP) of the DOH. 

Addressing pneumonia myths​​​​​​​

Myth 1: Pneumonia is just a bad cold

No, pneumonia is not just a bad cold, explained Solante. Colds are an infection of the upper respiratory tract and are usually manageable. Pneumonia, on the other hand, is an infection of the lower respiratory tract that inflames the lungs and air sacs (alveoli).

When inflamed, the air sacs may fill up with fluid or pus, causing symptoms such as cough, fever, chills and trouble breathing. Unlike colds, pneumonia is life-threatening, causing complications such as respiratory failure, sepsis, and lung abscess.

Myth 2: You get pneumonia from dried sweat and overfatigue

No, you cannot get pneumonia from dried sweat and overfatigue, explained Tejano. As explained earlier, pneumonia is a swelling or an inflammation in one or both lungs usually caused by an infection.

Different germs can cause pneumonia, including bacteria, fungi and viruses, including influenza and the COVID-19 virus. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae, followed by the bacteria-like organism, Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Myth 3: Pneumonia only affects the elderly

Pneumonia can affect people of any age, explains Solante. However, pneumonia is more likely to affect and have serious complications for infants and young children, people 50 years old and above, people with weakened immune systems, and adults with other chronic medical conditions.

Regardless of age, one is also more likely to get pneumonia if they have diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart disease. Smokers and heavy drinkers are also at high risk of getting pneumonia. These vulnerable groups are recommended to get their pneumococcal vaccine.

Myth 4: You only need one pneumonia vaccine in your lifetime

Much like with the COVID-19 vaccine, you need more than one shot of the pneumonia vaccine, explained Posadas. According to the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID), pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) or pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) are recommended for the prevention of invasive pneumococcal disease in adults 50 years old and older.

The current PSMID adult immunization guidelines recommend two pneumococcal vaccines, given in a sequential approach. The vaccines are usually given 1 year apart or 8 weeks for those who are immunocompromised.

Myth 5: COVID-19 vaccines can protect me against pneumonia 

While the COVID-19 vaccine can help protect one from the severe symptoms of the coronavirus, it does not guarantee protection from pneumonia. Specific vaccines protect against specific kinds of diseases and infections; as such, the COVID-19 vaccine can only protect you from COVID-19, explained Solante.    

As stated, COVID-19 is now regarded as a key risk factor for pneumococcal pneumonia and invasive pneumococcal disease. As such, it is recommended that high-risk individuals get their pneumococcal vaccine as soon as possible.

Immunizing pharmacists in action

Despite vaccines being readily available, safe and effective, vaccine hesitancy remains. As such, we need the continued cooperation and collaboration of allied medical and health professionals to ramp up vaccine awareness and immunization, especially among the most vulnerable members of the population.

Pharmacists have been identified by the public as among the most accessible health care professionals as well as a trustworthy source of health information.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists helped fast-track COVID-19 vaccination through the ResBakuna sa Botika Program, a joint government and private sector initiative that aims to expand the country’s immunization program.

Through this program, pharmacists embraced their role as adult immunizers to help address the shortage of vaccinators. Adult vaccines, such as pneumococcal vaccines and flu shots, are made available in local pharmacies and drugstore chains nationwide and can now be administered by pharmacists.

The PPhA provides a training and certification program for immunizing pharmacists, where they undergo theoretical learning, skills training and basic life support before they can be certified to administer adult vaccines.

Today, there are around 1,000 trained and certified immunizing pharmacists in local pharmacies and drugstore chains nationwide and there are more in the pipeline, Posadas shared.

“Get correct information from trusted health care professionals, including pharmacists. Trust the experts. Vaccination is another layer of protection,” he said.

“We strongly encourage everyone to get their age-appropriate vaccines to protect themselves and the people around them from vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia. All you need to do is visit the nearest health center to know the available vaccines and schedules. Let’s all get vaccinated for a healthier Philippines,” Tejano concluded.

This article has been originally published on Philstar.com.

Our People

A culture of innovation: Reshaping the future of the workplace at MSD in the Philippines

February 14, 2022

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For over 125 years globally, and for 25 years here in the country, MSD in the Philippines has
been researching and developing medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most
challenging diseases. With unwavering focus, MSD looks for medical innovations that improve
health and save lives throughout the world. At the heart of MSD’s success is its strong Human
Resource (HR) team.


Through the years, MSD positioned itself as a company that focuses on leadership and culture to
drive breakthrough healthcare innovations and business success.


“Patients first”, said Marese de Vera, HR Leader. “All our actions must be measured against our
responsibility to those who use or need our products.”


The way MSD operates is based on four pillars: Patient First, Ethics and Integrity, Respect for
People, Innovation and Excellence. With these, MSD leads a conscious effort to be a company
worthy of trust by its employees and patients.


“MSD is focused on protecting the safety of its employees and their families, ensuring that our
supply of medicines and vaccines reach our patients and customers”, Mike Blanch, Corporate
Affairs Director, remarked. “We are also supporting healthcare providers, through the PHAP
Cares foundation, to make sure our frontliners are adequately equipped and protected from this
pandemic.”


Leading the fight against COVID-19


When the global pandemic escalated back in March, the government placed Metro Manila and
the whole island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine. Several employees were
affected, fearing that they might lose their jobs along the way. MSD HR responded to address
this anxiety and fear in order for the organization to continue its operations.


Constant communication is key. “We made sure, throughout this pandemic, that we addressed
not just the physical health but the mental health of employees as well”, de Vera noted.

As a leader in the pharmaceutical industry, MSD is currently exploring multiple pathways to
advance understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and develop vaccines and treatments, including two
COVID-19 vaccine development efforts, a research collaboration to develop a novel antiviral
candidate, and an expansive internal research program to assess available vaccine and antiviral
candidates.

With the company’s experience in HIV and Ebola, MSD knows that innovation, science, and
collaboration are both essential to develop medicines and vaccines in a global public health
emergency like COVID-19. The path to vaccine development is not easy but MSD is optimistic
that collaborative spirit of the industry will yield new tools to fight coronavirus.

The culture of innovation

“Inventing for Life”, MSD’s battlecry, guides the culture of innovation that pervades across the
organization. To continually enable its pool of talent to deliver scientific breakthroughs and
health solutions that impact as many patients as possible, MSD takes a unique approach in
people management.

Innovation manifests in the company’s robust values-based HR practices – from recruitment,
onboarding, talent development, and continuous learning and leadership development.

According to de Vera, MSD ensures that employees are enabled with the knowledge, tools, and
environment that allow for innovation and creativity in the workplace. Every employee is
encouraged to always push the boundaries of what they can do for patients – while at all times
upholding ethics and integrity.


Innovation also empowered employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The leadership
management made a call to allow work-from-home and provided employees with tools,
applications, and equipment to make remote work a success.


“We empower them, encourage them to learn, open networks up to them, encourage sharing,
and encourage experimentation with new ideas and approaches”, de Vera highlighted.


This was possible through MSD’s “Ways of Working”. Employees are empowered to make
appropriate decisions within their jurisdictions and encouraged to be forward-looking and be
open to changes, to explore different roles and functions to reach their potential. As part of
MSD’s 25th anniversary, the “Boost Up Program” will be introduced to open more opportunities
for employees to grow their career within the organization.


Prior to the pandemic, HR held various communication efforts to reach out to employees. These
are: engaged leadership or Kapihan, an intimate group breakfast session where employees
raise any question under the sun; Country Leadership Team Ikot or CLT IKOT; and, an
employee engagement pulse survey done biannually.


During the pandemic, these efforts are replaced with regular town hall meetings and daily
check-in calls done through video conferences. The goal is to reassure the employees and
ensure that the company is with them in this fight.


As a company dedicated to saving and improving lives, MSD recognizes that they have a
special responsibility to help. Innovation plays a vital role in achieving this mission.

“Over the last 25 year here in the Philippines, MSD has pushed the boundaries of science with
the hope and expectation that advancing scientific knowledge will lead to major advances in
health”, Blanch shared.


Through innovations and collaborations, MSD successfully developed and launched the first
vaccines for measles and mumps, and the first vaccine for HPV that causes cervical and other
cancers. The company also led the development of ground-breaking medicines for heart
disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV and melanoma. This success is not achieved
single-handedly. MSD recognized the relationships established from working with healthcare
professionals, partners, and the government, with the aim of delivering quality healthcare for the
Filipino.


Transformational leadership in action

MSD advocates transformational leadership in order to build and nurture a culture of innovation.
Programs such as MSD Fellowship Global for Health, a three-month, field-based corporate pro
bono program designed to leverage the skills and talents of our employees worldwide, help
empower leaders and develop potential leaders within the organization.

The move from a traditional office setup to a semi-open space also encouraged employees to
break barriers, communicate openly, and think creatively.

“The fact that our workplace is set for the future in that it is conducive for collaboration, agile,
innovative helps us stay ahead. This drives the sustainability of the organization”, de Vera
shared.


MSD is mission-focused on helping save and improve lives of the Filipino people. As such, the
organization continues to create an environment of mutual respect, inclusion, creativity and
accountability. With innovation and collaboration, challenges can be overcome.

Health Awareness

PNIC 2021 highlights continuous efforts to build vaccine confidence in the new normal

February 14, 2022

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Today’s adolescents are expected to shape the future. But to maximize their potential, the society needs to empower the youth by ensuring that they grow into learned, confident, and healthy adults. 

Thirty million young people between the ages of 10-24 account for 28 percent of the Philippine population. Adolescent immunization rates continue to remain low, despite the success of pediatric vaccination programs.

In her talk titled Vaccination for Teens during the 2021 Philippine National Immunization Conference (PNIC 2021), Dr. Cecilia Llave, gynecologic-oncologist and technical adviser of the Scale Up Cervical Cancer Elimination with Secondary Prevention Strategy (SUCCESS) project of JHPIEGO, (a Johns Hopkins University affiliate) said that lack of access to healthcare compounded with risk-taking behaviors and low health literacy make them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections like human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B.

She laments that many teens in developing nations like the Philippines may have missed childhood doses. But unfortunately, it is also at this stage when the efficacy of childhood vaccination wanes. “We should target adolescents even though they look generally healthy,” Dr. Llave said. 

She cautions that mothers who may have missed their routine immunization may be susceptible to rubella and measles, which may lead to congenital disabilities such as microcephaly, intellectual disabilities, and eyesight or hearing defects.

Furthermore, “Immunized adolescents will protect the vulnerable by contributing to herd immunity,” which is essential in battling highly contagious diseases like measles and polio. 

“We don’t want any outbreaks just like the ongoing pandemic,” she said.  

Re-emergence of VPDs amid COVID-19

The current pandemic has underscored the role of vaccines as an important public health strategy. However, Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Inc. (PFV) president Dr. Liza Antoinette Gonzales reminded that while we are dealing with the global scourge that is COVID-19, there are also other vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) that may result in further outbreaks if not addressed. 

“The pandemic does not wipe out these diseases,” she warns. “We cannot trade one health crisis for another.”

This is reiterated by the World Health Organization representative to the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, one of the keynote speakers during the event. He reported that the country remains a high-risk spot for re-emergence of VPDs, just like the polio and measles comeback in 2018. 

He added an urgent need for a rapid scale up of immunization programs to help prevent large-scale outbreaks of VPDs, especially measles, rubella, diphtheria, and potentially, polio, as it is still in circulation globally. 

The importance of HPV vaccination

Some parents may balk at the idea of giving HPV vaccines to their pre-teen daughters. But healthcare practitioners can’t emphasize enough the importance of giving the vaccine at an age before the patient is potentially exposed to HPV.

Dr. Llave shares that low-risk HPV types are the culprit behind genital warts, while high-risk HPV may cause six types of cancers, including cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the Philippines, with 7,277 new cases diagnosed and 3,807 deaths annually. Regular screening can help diagnose infection at an early stage, and HPV vaccine can prevent more than 90 percent of cancers caused by HPV.

Promoting vaccine acceptance 

In his special message to the conference attendees, Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque acknowledges that more work is needed to raise vaccine confidence for HPV, polio, and COVID-19. 

That is why the PFV, through its annual PNIC, continues to raise awareness on the benefits of a vaccinated population, increase confidence and dispel hesitancy. Now on its 22nd run with the theme “Understanding Vaccination in the Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic,” the event gathers all stakeholders in the vaccine advocacy to exchange ideas, learnings, methods, and experiences on national immunization as the country grapples with the scourge of COVID-19.

Health Awareness

Saab Magalona says YES to Call the Shots

February 14, 2022

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“Health should be on top of the list.”

Content creator, podcast host, entrepreneur, and mother, Saab Magalona-Bacarro has officially made the call to protect her children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Being a mom of two boys – Pancho and Vito, Saab makes sure that health is on top of every list for her family. “It’s the most important thing because if that is overlooked, everything else will just crumble down,” she said.

That’s why for her, saying YES to Call the Shots, is a “no-brainer” to help promote awareness and education on something as life-saving as protecting our children from vaccine-preventable diseases. The Call the Shots PH is an advocacy campaign by MSD Philippines to help protect parents and their children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccination is a big factor in preventing illnesses and spreading disease,” she said. “It’s a few minutes of crying in exchange for long-term protection against life-threatening diseases so it’s very much worth it.

Saab also advised other parents who are still not taking the call. “If you need to do more research, please make sure your readings are science-based!” Saab emphasized as a lot of articles and myths can be easily searched on the internet. It is most important to seek advice from a health professional or from your pediatrician.

She also said that it is important to be proactive in your children’s health. “Do it for your child,” Saab added as she encourages every parent to speak to their doctor about protecting their children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Being proactive means making the call today. #CallTheShots now and go to the nearest doctor or healthcare provider to talk about the immunization schedule for your child.

For more information, visit the Call the Shots Facebook Page and consult your pediatrician on how to protect your children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Responsibility

MSD gives back to Kythe and Carewell

February 7, 2022

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At MSD, employees are encouraged to find ways to give back to the community. Through the global volunteerism and skills share program dubbed MSD Gives Back, employees take an active role in giving back to their communities through participation in a variety of programs offered to promote a healthier society, advance education, foster the arts, address the welfare of animals and preserve the environment.

In the Philippines, MSD employees have engaged in various face-to-face volunteerism activities that improve the health and well-being of communities for more than 25 years. In 2021, amidst the pandemic, the company decided to shift its approach in enabling employees to continue supporting the great work their partner patient advocacy groups are doing through virtual volunteerism.

As a continuation of MSD’s 25th anniversary celebration, MSD in the Philippines launched 5×5: MSD Gives Back, a programdesigned to give employees an opportunity to extend their support to patients, caregivers and the broader health care community within a span of 5 months.

MSD employees’ virtual volunteerism

The coronavirus pandemic is increasing anxiety and insecurity in many people diagnosed with cancer, as well as their loved ones. In 2021, MSD collaborated with Kythe Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides care to children with cancer, and the Cancer Resource and Wellness (Carewell) Community, a nonprofit foundation that provides support, education, and hope to persons with cancer and their loved ones.

“Amidst the pandemic, we believe patients can benefit from a strong sense of community support, to help them get through the challenges brought by these uncertain times,” said Michael Blanch, Corporate Affairs and Market Access Director.

“We are honored to work with Kythe Foundation and Carewell Foundation, two organizations that are dedicated to the health and well-being of patients and carers, throughout their cancer journey.”

MSD Gives Back to Kythe 

MSD employees collaborated with Kythe Foundation to support its mission of helping address the fears of children who are going through their cancer journey.  MSD employees hosted a series of 5 activities over 5 months, focused on reaching pediatric cancer patients across the country.

In July, MSD employees organized an art party for the Philippine Children’s Medical Center called “Sining Eskwela” featuring popular TV personality and artist Robert Alejandro for the benefit of pediatric cancer patients.

This was followed by a session for the National Children’s Hospital where MSD employees took the Kythe participants around the Philippines on a virtual tour in its “Tara na! Byahe Tayo!” program. Even if they could not go out and travel in-person, the children enjoyed sceneries and tourist spots like Iligan City’s Maria Cristina Falls and Bohol’s Chocolate Hills through an interactive virtual Lakad. They also participated in trivia games while they demonstrated their creativity through a bag painting activity. MSD employees gave out prizes and awards at the end of the program.

In time for Halloween, the kids of Kythe from Philippine Children’s Medical Center were given the opportunity to showcase their most creative costumes for the virtual event “Magical Costume Party”. The kids also demonstrated their knowledge of Filipino riddles, talents in music and dance, and skills in arts and craft. There was a virtual storytelling session to engage the kids in creative study and play. Winners of the costume party, virtual talent show and other games received special prizes and awards.

In November, to support Kythe’s Play Advocacy Week, MSD employees developed activity kits, “Spark Joy and Empower” for 60 kids in Cebu and Tarlac, which included art sets and stuffed toys to encourage hope and bravery throughout their journeys.

The holidays came early to the kids of Kythe in Philippine Orthopedic Center, Quirino Memorial Medical Center and  AFPHealth Service, when the MSD team organized a fun and interactive party entitled, “Tis the Season to be Jolly”. During the two-hour virtual program, the kids played games, participated in the storytelling activity, showcased their creativity and talent, and celebrated the joyful season with their ates and kuyas.

Kythe Executive Director Fatima “Girlie” Lorenzo said “We at Kythe believe that children with cancer can better cope with their challenges- especially during the pandemic- when they are surrounded by a caring community. As an organization, we inspire hope to the children and their families. Despite the limitations of COVID-19, we are thankful for MSD’s efforts to spend time with our Kythe Kids and prepare gifts for them.”

She added that “MSD has demonstrated a long-term commitment to addressing children’s fears by providing them with opportunities to learn, play, and grow even virtually.”

MSD Gives Back to Carewell

Meanwhile, for the Carewell community, MSD hosted a series of talks that aimed to enable cancer patients and carers to stay healthy and better navigate the new normal brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, MSD volunteers organized a health and wellness webinar dubbed “Talk to Doc”to support patients and carers from the Carewell Community. The community viewed a video featuring an A to Z guide to health and wellness. This was followed by a live Q&A session where attendees were able to ask questions to physicians regarding cancer-related medication, treatment options and healthcare access.

This was followed in November by the TechTalk webinar, hosted by the Digital Acceleration and Culture and Branding teams of MSD in the Philippines.  During the program, volunteers explained the role of telemedicine in helping patients navigate their treatment and care during the pandemic. Participants learned about the different apps  that may be useful as they navigate the new normal, while protecting their data privacy and keeping their information secure online.

“There was a lot of health misinformation and disinformation spread over the Internet. It can be a source of anxiety for patients with cancer and their families. Our goal at Carewell is to ensure that cancer patients and their loved ones feel that they are not alone in facing the challenges of the disease. Through our programs, we aim to provide access to factual, accurate information, science-based medical opinions and resources,” Carewell Managing Director Oliver Calasanz explained.

“We thank MSD in the Philippines for lending much-valuedexpertise through their skills-share program. . The health, financial and techtalk webinars hosted by MSD proved to be beneficial in helping patients navigate the pandemic.” Calasanz said.

‘Empowered to give back’

At MSD, employees are empowered to give back and help build healthier communities by engaging in activities where they are able to share their skills, time and resources, for the benefit of others.

“Giving is core to MSD’s culture. Our employees’ passion, collaboration, and commitment to the communities we serve persist despite challenges of the pandemic. Continuing MSD’s more than 25 years of service legacy, it’s all-hands-on-deck for the Filipino patient,” said MSD’s Human Resource Lead, Ms. Marese de Vera.

Innovation

Clinical trial sites seek participants to test molnupiravir’s potential in preventing COVID-19 among close contacts

January 25, 2022

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MSD biopharmaceutical company is checking the efficacy and safety of the investigational drug molnupiravir in preventing COVID-19 infection among close contacts.

A total of 1,332 participants will be recruited globally, of which 30 will come from the Philippines.

MSD Philippines has partnered with Asian Hospital and Medical Center and Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC) as local clinical trial sites. However, the patients will stay home with the COVID-19 patient while taking molnupiravir.

“The main indication for this study nga is for us to look into the potential of molnupiravir in preventing the development of active infection or active disease,” clinical investigator for QMMC Dr. Joel Santiaguel said.

Dr. Benjamin Co, the clinical investigator for Asian Hospital, said molnupiravir “can make a big difference in the way we handle the pandemic” if proven effective in preventing infection among close contacts.

“Imagine a situation wherein you get exposed to somebody who has COVID-19, you’re able to take a medicine for it and you are not going to develop COVID,” he said.

Who may join the trial?

The hospitals will recruit close contacts currently living with a symptomatic COVID-19 patient who tested positive within five days before the trial begins. The patient must be under home quarantine and not hospitalized. There is no age limitation for the COVID-19 patient.

Meanwhile, only close-contact participants aged 18 and above may join the trial. They should have no symptoms of infection, never had COVID-19, and either be unvaccinated or have not received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine within the last 7 days.

“These are patients that got exposed to those who have COVID, and we’re doing a clinical trial in order to demonstrate in humans whether this drug is an effective drug for post-exposure prophylaxis (preventative treatment),” Co said.

Aside from Metro Manila residents, they are also recruiting participants from Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, and Batangas.

What will happen during the trial?

The patient will be taken to the hospital for screening. If qualified, the close contacts will either take molnupiravir or placebo by mouth every 12 hours for 5 days.

They also have to live with the COVID-19 patient for a month.

As of posting, the hospitals are actively seeking participants.

“We are in the lull of surge, so relatively mababa o halos walang makuhang pasyente [so there are relatively less patients and hospitals are almost unable to recruit participants],” Dr. Santiaguel said.

“But if you know someone who has been recently diagnosed to have COVID…then we can look into the household. Ang mga kasama sa bahay, ito ang pwede i-include sa clinical trial [Those living with COVID-19 patients can be included in the trial],” he added.

Those who are interested in joining may contact the Quirino Memorial Medical Center at 0917-841-3314, or the Asian Hospital and Medical Center at 0968-558-3091 or 0927-007-6602.

A recent study on the use of molnupiravir among asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 patients showed the drug can reduce the relative risk of progression to severe disease or death by about 30%.

Hope

When the pandemic struck, a recovering cancer patient and his oncologist decided to strike back, holding onto hope that he will stay alive and thrive.

“Rufino” (name was changed upon the request of the patient) is no stranger to life’s adversities, having survived three strokes, on diabetes maintenance therapy, and also battling stage 4 lung cancer in his 70s. After several starts and stops, his oncologist, Dr. Katherine Hernandez says Rufino’s cancer is now “stable.” Years ago, Dr.  Hernandez offered him another treatment option after his cancer progressed while undergoing chemotherapy.

She adds that “the results of his immunotherapy treatment are very encouraging because the pulmonary lesions have decreased in size. Already, Rufino’s quality of life has improved and so have his chances of living longer.”

A cancer patient amid a pandemic

Prior to the COVID pandemic, he was responding well to his treatment: his hair grew back, and he even decided to match it with a moustache, plus he was already grocery shopping from a wheelchair. Dr. Hernandez shares “There were no longer the side effects like weakness, fatiguability, alopecia, and others, as he previously experienced. And even as a stroke survivor, he was stronger, and even walking faster than before. He was very happy!”

Then 2020 came and the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we know it. Rufino, a family man and businessman, is among the many cancer patients whose day-to-day lives were affected by the health crisis. “Madaming challenges, unang-una ‘di ka makalabas. Kahit na pasyal, takot akong bumaba,” Rufino recounts. “We had to enforce strict protocols at home, like we do not allow visitors, and everyone in the household wears a mask. Even in our business, we really made sure to follow safety protocols.”

Despite the anxiety brought about the pandemic, Rufino didn’t let COVID hamper his health progress. Ever the fighter, Rufino, guided by his oncologist pushed through with the treatments despite great constraints. “The threat of COVID-19 is real but what I’ve learned is that us cancer patients have to balance this with continued cancer care and not delaying treatment,” Rufino says.

Dr. Hernandez explains why this is so important: “Any delay or termination of treatment could mean ‘the end of the road’, so to speak. In medical language, no treatment would mean progression of cancer which could eventually lead to early death.”

The importance of implementing innovative, patient-centered strategies cannot be overemphasized given that cancer patients might be at increased risk for COVID-19 infection. To help ensure continued care, the delivery of cancer management needed meaningful adjustments, including changes in treatment protocols that prioritize patient safety, and fostering a health ecosystem that encourages coordination of care.

In Rufino’s case, since the hospital where he was receiving treatment before the pandemic suddenly became overrun with COVID-19 cases, Dr. Hernandez decided to look for a different hospital that would enable them to carry on with the therapy. She adds, “I continued to communicate with him and check his condition via teleconsult. He resumed his infusions in a secondary private hospital. He underwent RT-PCR prior to each treatment and received treatment in the outpatient department chemo unit.”

Digital media as public health tool

The role that digital media plays is also crucial. Telemedicine, which was not in widespread use prior to the pandemic, become a convenient tool to help patients receive health care advice while sheltering in place. Even with drawbacks like insufficient infrastructure, socio-cultural resistances, and legal considerations, ever since the pandemic happened, patients like Rufino have experienced the advantages of being able to talk in real time with their doctors in the comfort of their own homes.

Especially during this time of social distancing, social media somehow helps alleviate the loneliness and isolation that so many cancer patients feel. Rufino beams when he says that since the pandemic, he has become hooked on social media particularly messaging and online shopping applications. By connecting online with kin and friends who pray for hope and healing, he stays motivated to keep his eyes on the goal.

“Order din ako nang order ng food! Like other normal people, I search online to buy avocados, bananas, watermelons… Because of social media, kahit pandemic, may nakakausap ako at buhay na buhay ang isip ko. I don’t feel alone,” he shares.

From responsive and coordinated healthcare to teleconsultation and social media kumustahan, maintaining open lines of communication is paramount to the continued delivery of cancer care during an outbreak.

“Constant communication between the medical oncologist and the cancer patient is a very important mechanism to monitor the progress of treatment. And this can be achieved via telemedicine to lessen the hospital visits and hospital exposure,” Dr. Hernandez reiterates.

Keeping the hope from within alive

With or without pandemic, the most crucial lesson in navigating one’s cancer journey is to keep moving forward. Rufino said that his cancer experience enabled him to inspire other patients battling with the disease, sharing with them how he too grappled with his own mortality and ended up having a greater appreciation for life: “Talagang lumalaban ako. Kasama na diyan yung patuloy na pagpapagamot dahil gusto ko pa mabuhay.”

Rufino also wants to inspire other cancer patients to not lose hope. He says this is the reason why he takes time to put forward his story through the help of Hope From Within, an advocacy campaign spearheaded by MSD in the Philippines.

Rufino notes that the welfare of his family and his employees also serves as motivation for him to keep fighting the disease. “Iniisip ko, kung mawala [ako], ano nang mangyayari sa mga tauhan [ko] na may mga pamilya ring nakadepende sa akin.”

“I don’t yearn for what I used to enjoy before the pandemic,” Rufino reveals. “My attitude is to live in the present and look forward to tomorrow. When is my next schedule for infusion? ‘Yun ang priority ko. Lagi din ako nakikinig sa mga doktor.”

Dr. Hernandez describes the case of Rufino as a very encouraging story. “His continuous treatment has made him stronger and more alive. Mang Rufino is the perfect example of a cancer survivor who is full smiles and hope despite being challenged by Covid-19 pandemic.”

This coming December, Rufino will mark another personal milestone as he turns 75 years old. There will be ups and downs along the cancer journey especially during an ongoing pandemic, yet valiantly, he urges patients and their families to keep up the good fight. And it is an advice worth listening to, coming from a cheerful survivor of stage 4 lung cancer who now wears a bigger sized shirt from having regained appetite for food and for life.

For more details on how to reduce the burden of cancer-related mortalities amid the pandemic, visit http://www.hopefromwithin.org/ or like the official Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Hopefromwithinph/.

Patients

Melissa de Leon shares hopeful tomorrows for Breast Cancer Patients

January 25, 2022

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Melissa de Leon-Joseph is known to many as a versatile actress and host of popular TV programs in the early 2000’s. In 2005, her life took a dramatic turn.

Melissa discovered a lump in her breast. Her doctor removed the lump, which turned out benign. The following year, a mass was detected again and she was asked to do a needle biopsy. She shrugged the idea. At that time, she was at the peak of her health, career, and family life. Four months later, in December 2006, a pronouncement from her physician changed everything. She was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer in 2006.

“Siguro if I followed that first doctor, siguro stage 1 or stage 0 lang ako. I felt the world fell on my shoulders. My kids were very little at that time. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me. I was thinking very much of my children,” Melissa said.

Melissa’s words echo the sentiment of many Filipinas. To the newly diagnosed, cancer may be feared as a sentence of misery, suffering, or even death.

According to the 2020 World Health Organization (WHO) report, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally. As of the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 5 years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.

In the Philippines, Globocan 2020 report showed that more than 9,900 Filipinos died of breast cancer making it the 3rd leading cause of death due to cancer and the number one leading site of cancer with more than 27,000 new cases.

Acceptance and getting treatment

Melissa saw the wisdom in heeding her doctor’s advice, getting the right information, and moving forward with treatment.

“It is very important to trust your surgeon. Whatever he recommends, you follow. Once you have decided on a doctor and you know that you can trust him, you really have to submit and listen,” she admitted.

Cancer patients undergo different treatment options. Every patient’s treatment program varies depending on the type of cancer and the patient’s medical history. Depending on the status of the patient, medical oncologists may shift from one type of treatment to another, over the course of a patient’s journey.

Melissa underwent a mastectomy and six sessions of chemotherapy intended for stage 4 cancer patients because her cancer diagnosis was an aggressive type. In the middle of her treatment, the mass was tested again. She went to three hospitals for a biopsy.

The results revealed that her cancer was not as aggressive as previously reported and that she wouldn’t have to go through the additional and costly treatment after chemotherapy.

“The biggest challenges for me were not knowing exactly what is it that I will encounter, and the expenses. I didn’t know that it was going to be very expensive. I also had to deal with a wrong diagnosis,” she recalled. “There is also the challenge of accepting that I have no more breasts. I was able to go through it because my husband was very supportive and it was ok with him, as long as I am well and ok. He assured me that it doesn’t matter, and it will not make me less of a woman.”

Celebrating life after cancer

“There’s life after cancer. It’s been 15 years. I still believe that the best is yet to come. In this life we are journeying, we must be able to know who we should hang on to. The

important thing for me is knowing who our strength is and where we are getting it from. Surviving or conquering this journey is something that I can and will continue to talk about. I don’t think I will be able to get through it well if not because of my spiritual relationship with our Lord,” Melissa expressed.

Melissa thanked her husband, her family, friends, and all the people who prayed for her during her fight with cancer.

“I believe in the power of prayer. Whenever I go out with my bandana, somebody would approach me and say, ‘Melissa, I’m praying for you. This is so wonderful. There are people who are very much concerned. You need that when you’re going through something. Just a message of encouragement is very precious,” she added.

To help other women who are battling breast cancer and their families, Melissa started Project Pink Cancer Support Group.

“The mission of Project Pink is to be able to provide emotional, spiritual, and psychological support to the patients, caregivers, and their families. We help them go through government assistance. We hope to multiply effective cancer treatment. So that stigma that happens to the person will be overcome. Spread the good news that there’s life after cancer,” Melissa explained.

When her cancer treatment ended, Melissa opened a new chapter in her life – a life filled with hope and happiness by sharing her journey and inspiring others with her spirituality.