MSD supports municipal, city health officers

April 23, 2024

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MSD in the Philippines has partnered with the Association of Municipal Health Officers of the Philippines, Inc. (AMHOP) for a highly anticipated convention in Santa Rosa City, Laguna held on April 23 to 27, 2024.

AMHOP is a recognized healthcare-professional organization composed of municipal and city health officers, medical officers or specialists, Doctors to the Barrios, and other allied professionals who are actively engaged in the public health sector.

During the week-long convention, MSD distributed relevant materials to help grassroots healthcare professionals in raising awareness on Cervical Cancer, which is the second most common cancer afflicting Filipino women.


Education materials on Cervical Cancer and how to prevent HPV may be downloaded here:

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Our People

Women’s Network provides a safe space for our female employees to connect and grow 

April 16, 2024

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Did you know that the Philippines has one of the highest levels of gender equality across industries?1 In fact, out of 146 countries, the Philippines is the 19th best-performing country in terms of gender parity, according to the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum (WEF).2  

Despite this good standing, we can still do more to support women in the workplace and encourage their further growth and development. 

The World Bank underscores the need for relevant policies and programs to boost female labor participation in the Philippines.3 These policies and programs may include supporting flexible work arrangements, addressing gendered social norms limiting women’s access to the labor market, and providing alternatives to in-home childcare, just to name a few. 

Why women’s networks matter in the workplace

Establishing a women’s community or network is a simple yet meaningful program that can support women in the workplace. It provides a safe space for women to connect, support each other, and advance their careers. It also promotes diversity and inclusion in the workplace, thereby helping break down the gender pay gap and forward gender parity.   

Women’s Network: A safe space for women and their allies 

True to our commitment to diversity and inclusion, MSD in the Philippines offers many initiatives and programs that help us achieve this goal, including a Women’s Network. To date, MSD’s Women’s Network has 10,000 members in 72 global chapters empowering women throughout the company. 

Women’s Network in the Philippines was formally launched in 2018 and re-launched last March 28, 2023, in time for the Women’s Month celebrations. The network is led by Jade Fortin, with co-lead Jonnabee Hular and core team members Lai Valenzuela, Nicole Tenorio, Sheila Perete, Julie Dequit, and Michelle Marcelo and country leadership team sponsors Roan Evangelista and Ma-an Galang-Escalona.   

The Women’s Network aims to empower and support the women of MSD to fully realize their professional potential and achieve gender equality through all levels of the organization. The Women’s Network aspires to be an engaged and influential community that unapologetically champions and inspires women in MSD to be their authentic selves, feel a sense of belonging, and realize their professional aspirations. 

“My passion lies in empowering women within our organization and creating a space where their voices are heard, valued, and celebrated. I am committed to fostering an environment where women can thrive, break barriers, and unlock their full potential. Through mentorship, networking, and professional development opportunities, we are building a community of strong and resilient women who inspire and support one another. Together, we will continue to shatter glass ceilings, cultivate leadership, and pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for all women at MSD,” emphasized Jade Fortin, Women’s Network Lead, Philippines.  .

Women’s Network activities reflect its three key priorities: business integration and insights, talent acquisition and development, and community outreach and social responsibility. 

Women’s Month 2024: #InspireInclusion

As part of the festivities for Women’s Month, the Women’s Network held a trade fair to promote and showcase up-and-coming female-owned and female-led businesses.  

They also distributed cupcake treats for their female colleagues on International Women’s Day last March 8, in partnership with HR and GWES. Through an #InspireInclusion Photo Challenge, we let our female colleagues and allies unleash their creativity by striking their best poses to depict what embracing gender equity looks like.  

In partnership with the Vaccines business unit, the Women’s Network has also launched the “Her Point of View (HPV) Cervical Cancer Prevention Lunch and Learn” activity. 

With cervical cancer as the second most common cancer afflicting women in the Philippines, the Women’s Network reaffirms its commitment to make cervical cancer a thing of the past through awareness campaigns encouraging women to get vaccinated and screened for cervical cancer as early as possible in partnership with HR, Vaccines Business Unit, CO and Employee Cooperative.  

During the second half of 2023, the network and their allies held Family Day and another Trade Fair, as well as an outreach activity called “Hair for Hope”, where volunteers can donate hair for cancer patients.

Lastly, the Women’s Network also held its Sister Circle locally called “Circle of Strength”, a safe space for our female and female-identifying colleagues and their allies to have courageous, bold, and inclusive conversations. For the last quarter of 2023, conversations delved into mental health, work-life balance, and balancing career and parenting. Additionally, long-term Women’s Network projects include the construction of an office playroom or family room, as well as improvements to the lactation room.    

Lighting the path for our female colleagues and leaders 

Indeed, the diversity of our colleagues enables us to better understand the unique needs of the consumers, healthcare providers, and patients we serve. Moving forward, we will remain committed to equity across gender as we continue to develop inclusive policies and programs that support women in the workplace and promote gender equality.

Want to know more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion? View our diversity and inclusion stories here.

Want a career where you can help invent for a more hopeful future? Visit our careers website today.

References

  1. BusinessWorld, Present state of women in the workplace, March 2023 
  2. Philippine Institute for Development Studies, Women in the workplace: Paving a better landscape in the labor force, March 2023 
  3. BusinessWorld, Present state of women in the workplace, March 2023 
Health Awareness

Together for Health: Making a United Stand Against Cervical Cancer

April 16, 2024

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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 underscoring the urgency of 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 Canceron 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 oldin the Philippines. The same pattern is seen across the region; moreover, the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer are 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 the 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, 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.

Abbygale “Abby” Arenas de Leon, a former beauty queen and a certified image professional, shares her story as a breast cancer survivor. Despite leading a relatively healthy lifestyle and having no family history of cancer, she was shocked to learn after a biopsy that she had been diagnosed with Stage 3 HER2+ breast cancer, an aggressive type.

Determined to fight, Abby underwent neoadjuvant chemotherapy and targeted therapy followed by modified radical mastectomy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy, as part of her personalized treatment plan. Now cancer-free since January 2021, she uses her platform to serve as a beacon of hope for women battling breast cancer and joins ‘Hope From Within,’ a cancer advocacy campaign by MSD in the Philippines, as its newest ambassador.

Emphasizing the value of innovative cancer care, Abby highlights that it allows cancer patients to spend more time with their loved ones, focusing on survival, quality of life, and family rather than treatment costs and challenges. She advocates for personalized treatment plans, innovation in treatments to increase survival rates and better outcomes, and the importance of a multidisciplinary team in managing breast cancer.

Breast cancer survivor Abbygale “Abby” Arenas-de Leon

The diagnosis came despite her living a relatively healthy lifestyle and having no history of cancer in the family. Despite the sad news, Abby was determined to fight. She didn’t perceive cancer to be a death sentence, but rather a test of strength for her to survive in the face of adversity.

Now, Abby uses her platform to serve as a beacon of hope for women in the battle against breast cancer. In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, she joins ‘Hope From Within’, a cancer advocacy campaign by healthcare company MSD in the Philippines, as its newest ambassador.

Survival over cost, quality of life over money

Abby knew from day one that the only way to get better was to trust her doctors and follow their treatment advice. Although, one of her biggest questions to her doctors then was, “How much will it cost?”

The financial anxiety had Abby and her husband, veteran photographer Jun de Leon, navigated the possibility of selling their only home. While a house is indispensable for a middle-income family like the De Leons, Jun’s words were found reassuring by Abby. “We can buy another house, we can never buy another you.”

With the support of her loving husband and two kids, Abby went on with her personalized treatment plan which consisted of neoadjuvant chemotherapy and targeted therapy followed by modified radical mastectomy, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy.

“Neoadjuvant chemotherapy was necessary for Abby since her cancer was discovered in a locally advanced stage,” said breast oncology surgeon, Dr. Diana O. Cua. “We needed to downsize her cancer to allow us for clear margins during surgery. This also let us see if she responded well to treatments, and served as a guide for future therapies,” added Dr. Cua.

Dr. Diana Cua, breast oncology surgeon

Dr. Cua also explained that each breast cancer is different and unique. “This is why innovative approaches to breast cancer treatment have proved to increase survival rates and better outcomes, reduce side effects or complications to enhance the patient’s quality of life during and after treatment as well as minimize recurrence for long term survival.”

Meanwhile, Abby explained that spending time with family is what cancer patients would most value if treatments allowed them to live for longer. “There’s a real need for innovative cancer care because it’s a question of tradeoffs. It’s about survival over cost. It’s quality of life over money. It’s more time spent with your loved ones over getting caught up with the challenges of cancer.”

Moving forward: Life after cancer

Breast cancer is a complex disease that affects various aspects of a patient’s health. It’s vital that a multidisciplinary team of doctors assess a patient’s case, to come up with a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan targeted to one’s cancer type.

After 14 months of undergoing a series of therapies, Abby de Leon was finally deemed cancer-free in January 2021. She now maintains her health with the help of hormone therapy.

Abby’s journey through cancer was a proclamation of the love and support surrounding her. Many of their loved ones expressed their support, both morally and financially, that Abby and Jun de Leon were able to cover all treatment expenses while keeping their home.

As an ambassador for Hope From Within, Abby leads individuals, organizations, and communities to come together and raise awareness of the most common cancer types among women.

This breast cancer awareness month, her message is simple yet powerful: there is hope from within, and it’s stronger than any adversity.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) encompasses the principles of creating a diverse workforce, fostering an inclusive environment, and ensuring equitable opportunities for all employees, regardless of their background or characteristics.

A study found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity were 36% more likely to outperform their industry competitors in terms of profitability. In an era marked by societal transformations and a greater emphasis on equality, companies that prioritize DE&I initiatives not only experience a boost in productivity and innovation but also foster a more harmonious work environment.

Global healthcare company, MSD in the Philippines, has been modeling DE&I as part of its strategic priorities, to nurture its talent pool, and better serve its equally diverse stakeholders. Through the establishment of Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRGs), MSD aims to provide a platform for employees to come together based on shared backgrounds, experiences, or interests, fostering a sense of belonging and support, as they grow their careers and work to save and improve patients’ lives.

“Leadership plays a pivotal role in ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion or DE&I programs are not just supported, but truly embraced. We know it is our responsibility to foster a workplace culture where every employee feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and talents. By championing DE&I initiatives, we not only cultivate a more inclusive environment but also unleash the full potential of our diverse workforce. We can create a future where everyone thrives, where barriers are shattered, and where our collective success knows no bounds,” said Andreas Riedel, MSD in the Philippines President and Managing Director.

Empowering women to be at their best

MSD in the PH female employees celebrate Women’s Month by launching the Women’s Network

A prominent initiative within MSD’s commitment to DE&I is the establishment of the Women Network (WN). The primary goal of WN is to empower and support women to realize their full professional potential and promote gender equity throughout all levels of the organization. With an aspiration to create an engaged and influential community, the Women Network inspires women to embrace their authentic selves, fostering a sense of belonging and supporting them in realizing their professional aspirations.

Women Network has organized a range of impactful activities that highlight their dedication to promoting gender equity and empowering women in the workplace. One such event was the International Women’s Day celebration, where the accomplishments and contributions of women were recognized and celebrated. In addition, the Women’s Network, in collaboration with Vaccines BU organized a cervical cancer prevention lunch and learn activity, raising awareness about an important health issue affecting women. Special occasions like Mother’s Day and Women’s Health Month were commemorated, emphasizing the significance of women’s roles and well-being. WN also established regional circle sisters, which provided a safe space for bold and inclusive discussions and learning circles.

“My passion lies in empowering women within our organization and creating a space where their voices are heard, valued, and celebrated. I am committed to fostering an environment where women can thrive, break barriers, and unlock their full potential. Through mentorship, networking, and professional development opportunities, we are building a community of strong and resilient women who inspire and support one another. Together, we will continue to shatter glass ceilings, cultivate leadership, and pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for all women at MSD,” emphasized Jade Fortin, Women’s Network Lead, Philippines.

Notably, women make up over 50% of MSD’s employee population, and over 50% of management roles are held by women leaders in health care.

Bridging the generation gap

Meanwhile, the Next Gen Network (NGN) program is a dynamic initiative aimed at breaking generational barriers and fostering a strong sense of belonging and acceptance among employees. By creating a genuinely safe-to-speak environment, NGN ensures that every individual within the organization feels valued and heard. By bringing together employees from different generations, NGN not only fosters understanding and collaboration but also accelerates business outcomes through diverse perspectives. Furthermore, the program plays a vital role in developing the leaders of tomorrow by providing opportunities for mentorship, skill-building, and professional growth.

“By nurturing intergenerational relationships and creating spaces for meaningful dialogue, we can harness the collective wisdom and innovative ideas of both seasoned professionals and emerging talents. We are breaking down barriers, fostering understanding, and cultivating a dynamic workplace culture that values the unique contributions of each generation. Through the Next Gen Network, we are shaping the leaders of tomorrow, united in our commitment to drive positive change and achieve remarkable outcomes,” noted Justin Jerome De Jesus, Next Gen Network Lead, Philippines.

Leading with pride

The newest of the EBRGs, Rainbow Alliance is an integral part of MSD’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, envisions an accepting workplace culture that fully supports a vibrant LGBTQ+ and visible Allies employee network globally. Through initiatives such as talent recruitment and development, community outreach, and business integration, Rainbow Alliance strives to inspire and nurture a workplace environment that embraces and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. In collaboration with the Human Resources department, a consultation session was held to explore the possibility of extending benefits to common law and same-gender partners. After thorough research and extensive discussions, the policy was approved, marking a significant step toward fostering equality and inclusivity within the organization. Effective January 2023, this policy change demonstrates MSD’s commitment to creating an environment where all employees, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are treated with dignity and respect.

“I am inspired by the support and encouragement we receive in our mission to create a safe and affirming environment for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. With the backing of our leadership, we are empowered to drive meaningful change, break down barriers, and ensure that every individual feels valued and respected for who they are. We are building a workplace where diversity is celebrated, and all voices are heard. MSD’s leadership is instrumental in paving the way for a more inclusive future, and I am honored to be part of this transformative journey,” shared Mel Siapno, Rainbow Alliance Lead, Philippines.

As businesses strive for success in a rapidly changing world, they must recognize the value of DE&I and take proactive measures to foster an inclusive and equitable workplace. By embracing diversity, promoting inclusivity, and ensuring equity, organizations can cultivate a thriving workforce that drives innovation, enhances employee well-being, and paves the way for a better future for all.

The Department of Health (DOH) is planning to procure by next year DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)-based test kits for the screening of human papillomavirus (HPV), a viral infection commonly associated with cervical cancer. The health agency has already submitted the kits to the Health Technology Assessment Council for evaluation, according to Dr. Jan Llevado, cancer control division chief of the DOH. She said during the 12th HPV Summit on Thursday that the kits are being piloted in 30 access sites in the country through a partnership between the DOH and nonprofit organization Jhpiego. The three-year project called “Scale Up Cervical Cancer Elimination with Secondary prevention Strategy,” or Success, began in 2021. Llevado said DNA-based testing is a “high-quality performance method used as primary screening test for cervical cancer elimination” and endorsed by the World Health Organization. For areas without access to the HPV-DNA test kits, free screening tests using visual inspection with acetic acid wash are available for women 20 years old and up at all DOH hospitals and rural health units. In 2021, the DOH aimed to vaccinate 1,036,009 9-year-old girls, the starting age for children to get at least a single dose of HPV vaccines.

The right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.

Although our nation’s healthcare has a long way to go in terms of improvement, healthcare professionals across the country have been hard at work on how our nation’s Universal Health Care can progress. This time, it is not solely healthcare professionals who are working to change the healthcare landscape. Now, we have patient leaders to push dialogues and create opportunities for patient voices to be heard.

Recently, the Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO) in partnership with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati held the graduation ceremony for their rigorous Post-Graduate Certificate Course on Healthcare Leadership and Management. This is part of PAPO’s vision to be the unifying voice of Filipino patients, where patient leaders across the nation have the unique opportunity to hone their knowledge and skills to drive positive change within the healthcare sector.

During the ceremony, five groups presented their Action Learning Projects (ALP) – which are real-life, results-oriented projects designed to provide participants with more meaningful learning and help ensure the learning in the classroom is translated to the workplace. PAPO looked at innovative ways to improve the Philippines’ current healthcare landscape. In these presentations, the patient leaders discussed the following topics: 1) Project Padayon, a toolkit guide for local health officers in organizing and partnering with patient groups; 2) Developing a strategic partnership for people-centered healthcare; 3) automation of Filipino medical records through mobile application development, 4) Increasing access to financing for rare disease patients; and 5) enhancing the patient experience in accessing financial assistance through the Malasakit Center.

“Mas lumakas ang confidence naming mga PAPO leaders through the program after knowing now how to frame problems and propose solutions in a better way,” says PAPO trustee Mel Lamsin. “Our ALP is all about helping indigent patients regarding financial assistance. We saw the pain points of patients and what the government should tackle and the solutions that patients can offer. That is why patient leaders are important, so we can serve as the patient’s voice in important matters and co-create solutions.”

A Pioneer in Healthcare Leadership Education

AIM and PAPO co-developed the customized, first-of-its-kind program under the School of Executive Education and Lifelong Learning. Patient leaders had the opportunity to hone their leadership skills toward creating a people-centered approach to health care.

“Each of the patient leaders is a volunteer, and they don’t have any compensation, but because of their personal experience, either as a patient or a carer of someone with the disease, this motivated them to start their patient advocacy,” says PAPO president Karen Alparce-Villanueva.

The primary objective of the program is to enhance the capabilities of patient leaders, empowering them to effectively lead and transform their organizations. By equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge, these individuals can play pivotal roles as members of the local health boards. The program aims to foster their active participation in decision-making processes, enabling them to contribute meaningfully to the improvement of healthcare systems at the grassroots level.

“Under the Universal Health Care law, there’s going to be a functioning local health board, and we want the patient’s voice to be represented and reflected in these local health boards. But we realize we cannot come there unprepared,” says Alparce-Villanueva. “That’s the reason why we have the courses to prepare ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and then have the confidence because we will be sitting with other stakeholders. This course will further enhance our leadership, strategic thinking, and our empathy through design thinking, which is the major framework that we learned from this program.”

Patient voice matters

In recent years, there has been a general trend toward transforming the healthcare system from something that happens to patients, into something that happens with them. Listening to patients and their families, and involving them in the development of diagnosis, treatment, and after-care services will improve patient care and experience. This is why a strong patient voice matters.

“We hope to develop leaders that will be inspired to do good things that will be beneficial to society and in its transformation,” says Albert Mateo, Head of the School of Executive Education and Lifelong Learning at AIM. “Today, I think we have achieved that by allowing these patient leaders to be empowered, see their passion and the burning desire how to contribute moving forward. “I’m looking forward to seeing that the action learning project that the patient leaders have just presented is only the first of the many, many projects they will do eventually.”

A community of champions to empower Filipino patients

This strategic collaboration between PAPO and AIM was also supported by key players in the pharmaceutical industry, represented by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) and sponsors, including MSD, Roche, and Boehringer Ingelheim.

“As a member of PHAP, we at MSD stand with PAPO, AIM, and the broader community in championing patient-centered health care for Filipino patients. We laud PAPO for bringing this vision closer to reality by equipping patient leaders through this postgraduate course, and feel honored to be among the sponsors,” said Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director, MSD Philippines.

The journey towards a better future for healthcare in the Philippines relies on the active involvement and empowerment of dedicated leaders. By investing in the education and capacity-building of patient advocates and group leaders, PAPO is nurturing a generation of change-makers who possess the knowledge and skills to transform their organizations and contribute to local health boards. As these individuals disseminate their learnings and add value within their communities, a ripple effect occurs, ultimately leading to an enhanced healthcare system.

In the lead up to the opening of classes, MSD in the Philippines collaborated with Kythe Foundation to help pediatric patients get ready for another year of learning, with “MSD Gives Back 2 School.”

Employees of MSD in the Philippines donated learning and wellness kits to 100 pediatric cancer and chronically ill patients in Metro Manila. Through the volunteer program MSD Gives Back, they contributed their time, thought, and care-filled efforts in purchasing and assembling the school kits, and visiting the pediatric wards of Quirino Memorial Medical Center (QMMC) and the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) to engage with and lift the spirits of the Kythe kids.

MSD employees led by Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director, turn over school kits to Kythe Foundation represented by Janice Cuevas, Partner Relations Manager, and Jem Benzon, Volunteer Program Officer.

Boosting the spirit of brave kids

“We, at Kythe Foundation, are deeply grateful for the continuous partnership with MSD for the past years. The vibrant energies and support of the MSD volunteers are seen and felt during activities like this. We are sincerely grateful for the time, effort, and donations that each of you have contributed to ensure that the children patients are well-equipped to learn and grow even when confined in the hospital. These kits give them a chance to explore and develop their skills in writing and drawing, perhaps creating poetry or songs too. Through this, they reminded that their illness and hospitalization cannot hinder their capacity to continue learning, and that they are not alone in their battle against cancer and other chronic illnesses.” – Janice Cuevas, Kythe’s Partner Relations Manager, on the relevance of such interaction for children with cancer.

MSD volunteers made sure to encourage the kids’ love of learning during the delivery of the school kits, which contained notebooks and pens, as well as art materials, and wellness kits. The hospital visit ended on a fun-filled note, as volunteers interacted with the kids and their guardians, exchanging notes on their favorite school activities, and wishing them a great school year ahead.

MSD employees hand-delivered school kits for the pediatric cancer patients at the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) together with Jem Benzon, Kythe Volunteer Program Officer, Charm Mercado, Kythe Child Life Coordinator for POC, and Fely Zafranco, RSW – POC OIC, Medical Social Work Service

Patients first

MSD champions volunteerism by encouraging employees to find meaningful ways to give back to the community. Through the volunteerism and skills share program, MSD Gives Back, employees participate in programs that promote a healthier society, advance education, foster the arts, address the welfare of animals, and preserve the environment.

“At MSD, we aim to help build healthier communities by putting patients first in everything we do. Through MSD Gives Back, our employees are empowered to make an impact through meaningful volunteerism opportunities, such as our collaboration with Kythe Foundation, for the benefit of children with cancer and other chronic illnesses.”

The company has been a long-time supporter of Kythe Foundation, a non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to the health and well-being of children with chronic illness, such as cancer. In recognition of the company’s contributions, in 2022, Kythe Foundation named MSD Philippines as Corporate Volunteer Group of the Year.

Sharing a human moment that serves as a balm to the soul contributes to the healing process. This is where company policies on volunteerism and individual acts of kindness can make a difference, by encouraging and empowering children and their families to fight cancer and letting them know that they are not alone in their journey.

Responsibility

Government and advocates urge senior citizens to get pneumonia vaccination

June 29, 2023

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Bakunado si lolo at lola

Even before COVID-19 posed a severe health risk among senior citizens, pneumonia has already been affecting the elderly.  

In the new normal, pneumonia remains a leading cause of hospitalization and death among the elderly and people living with chronic disease. While the severity of pneumonia can range from mild to life-threatening, it is most severe and fatal for infants and children, adults over 65 years old, immunocompromised individuals, and people living with chronic health problems.

Speakers during the recently held Pandesal Forum (from left to right), Mr. Gerald John A. Paz, Senior Health Program Officer Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, Department of Health (DOH); Dr. Allandale Nacino, Medical Officer IV Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, DOH; Dr. Arthur Dessi E. Roman, Medical Specialist III and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; Mr. Samir M. Manzanilla, Project Development Officer IV, National Commission of Senior Citizens; Wilson Lee Flores, discussion moderator.

And in spite of the looming threat of COVID-19, pneumonia remained the seventh leading cause of death in the Philippines in 2021.

This is an unfortunate reality, mainly because pneumonia is a vaccine-preventable disease. It threatens Filipino families due to the lack of awareness about the disease, with only a small segment of the population vaccinated against pneumonia.

To address this gap, the national government, the medical community, senior citizen advocates, and the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), with the support of healthcare company MSD in the Philippines, are working together to spread awareness about pneumonia and various programs available for Filipinos to help prevent the disease.  

Of pneumonia and pandesal 

Pneumonia was the hot topic at the latest Pandesal Forum hosted by Wilson Flores titled, “Bakunado si Lolo at Lola, Iwas Pulmonya”. A distinguished panel of experts discussed the prevailing challenges around pneumonia and shared insights on strategies to prevent and manage this deadly disease. 

The key to averting deaths and complications from pneumonia is better safety and prevention measures, says Dr. Arthur Dessi E. Roman, Medical Specialist III at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). One of the most effective ways to stop pneumonia in its tracks is still through pneumococcal vaccination. 

“We have to get over this misconception that vaccines are just an additional expense,” Dr. Roman further explains, especially in light of the free vaccination programs of the national government. He added that pneumonia prevention through vaccination will not only prevent the disease itself, but can also prevent hospital and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions. Vaccination safeguards the quality of life of the elderly, added Roman, “It is better not to get the disease at all since even a person survived from pneumonia, we cannot guarantee that they’ll go back to their baseline functionality.” 

“Pneumococcal vaccination is included in the National Immunization Program (NIP) of the DOH,” reminds Dr. Allandale Nacino, Medical Officer IV at the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau (DPCB) of the Department of Health (DOH). 

“The goal of the DOH with the National Immunization Program (NIP) is to cover the pneumococcal vaccination of Filipinos across different life stages—from children, to adults, to the elderly. As such, there are free pneumonia vaccines for infants and seniors alike,” explains Dr. Nacino.  

pneumonia senior citizen

Dr. Arthur Dessi E. Roman, Medical Specialist III and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; Mr. Gerald John A. Paz, Senior Health Program Officer Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, Department of Health (DOH); Dr. Allandale Nacino, Medical Officer IV Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, DOH; Mr. Samir M. Manzanilla, Project Development Officer IV, National Commission of Senior Citizens; Wilson Lee Flores, Pandesal Forum moderator.

As part of its advocacy to ensure the effective implementation of various programs and services for senior citizens, the National Commission of Senior Citizens (NCSC) joins the national government and the medical community in this campaign to raise awareness about the urgency of pneumonia vaccination, especially among senior citizens.  

“Access to quality and affordable healthcare is important. As an organization, we are constantly looking for ways to make the well-being of every senior citizen our topmost priority,” says Samir M. Manzanilla, Project Development Officer IV at the NCSC. 

Learning from the experiences of the senior citizens whom they serve, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCSC is here “to advocate and raise awareness that vaccines are safe and can save lives,” adds Manzanilla.     

The burden of pneumonia 

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding pneumonia, which get in the way of preventing and treating the disease. Pneumonia is primarily a lung infection caused by various organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. As such, you can’t get pneumonia simply from overfatigue, sweating, or getting caught in the rain, which are common misconceptions among Filipinos. 

When the airways of the lungs get infected, fluids or pus fill up the insides of the alveoli, or the tiny air sacs where the lungs and the blood exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide when we breathe in and out. When the alveoli get clogged up due to infection, oxygen cannot properly enter the lungs, causing a host of difficulties and complications.

Since we need to breathe to survive, any infection that affects the lungs can be life-threatening. This is also why pneumonia remains a leading cause of hospitalization and death, especially among the elderly.

Aside from the personal challenge of living with the disease, pneumonia also burdens national health systems. According to data from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), a total of 737,659 people sought medical assistance and claims due to pneumonia in 2019. This translates to around PHP10.64 billion worth of medical aid and claims given to patients and families living with pneumonia.

Pneumonia prevention through vaccination

Pneumococcal vaccines have been around since the 1980s and studies show that they safe and effective to be administered to infants, children, and older adults alike. Despite widespread availability, pneumococcal vaccination coverage in the Philippines is still at around 20% of the total senior population.

When one is immunized against pneumonia, they may experience lower severity of the lung infection, thereby helping to increase the chances of survival from the disease and reducing the likelihood of hospitalization.

Alongside aging comes the rising need for more robust and proactive healthcare protection. However, the elderly are not the only population vulnerable to pneumonia.  

Children who are two years old or younger, individuals with weakened or suppressed immune systems, and people with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney problem, among others, are also at risk of contracting the severe infection. The good news is that pneumococcal vaccination can be safely administered to these individuals. 

For those wary of the side effects of vaccination, pneumococcal vaccines have little to no side effects. In rare instances, side effects may include pain and swelling over the injection area. As vaccines help the body create antibodies to fight off infection, some might experience slight fever and flu-like symptoms after immunization.

Free pneumonia vaccination for senior citizens 

Pursuant to the Department of Health (DOH) Memorandum No. 2020-0384, local government units (LGU) and barangay health centers (BHC) are to provide essential health services to senior citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes continued immunization against influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19.

Essential health service delivery included a mix of door-to-door (D2D) visitations and fixed-post (FP) stations at health centers, rural health units (RHU), and barangay health stations (BHS).

As per the DOH, all senior citizens aged 60 years old and above must receive the following vaccines for free: one dose of pneumococcal vaccine throughout their lifetime, and one dose of the flu vaccine every year. To ensure safety, all eligible senior citizens must be assessed and interviewed before their immunization to determine any contraindications. 

The national government, through the DOH, is ramping up its immunization programs to help protect the elderly and is encouraging all eligible senior citizens to avail of the free pneumococcal vaccination from their local health centers.

Nacino, appealed to the elderly not to hesitate to visit the nearest health center to inquire about receiving a free pneumococcal jab. “Pwede pong gawin ng ating mga kababayan is pumunta po sa ating mga centers, syempre yung iba malalayo yung mga hospitals so kung ano yung pinakamalapit na health facilities, kung RHU man yan or barangay health stations, they can inquire po the availability of this vaccines.” Adult vaccines, such as pneumococcal vaccines and flu shots, are also now made available in local pharmacies and drugstore chains nationwide and can now be administered by pharmacists.

Meanwhile, a senior citizens group represented by Ciriaco Angeles, President of the Provincial Federation of Senior Citizens Association of Cavite, Inc. (PFSCACI) has expressed its gratitude to health leaders for their commitment to protect the elderly. “We would like to thank the DOH and our local government officials for always taking care of us, and for giving importance to public health programs for senior citizens,” says 

“Pneumonia is no joke, as it remains a leading cause of hospitalization and death among senior citizens. And even if a lot of senior citizens are already online and on social media, many of us still lack vital information about this disease,” adds Angeles. 

Speaking to his fellow senior citizens, Angeles adds, “Huwag mahihiyang magtanong! (Don’t be afraid to ask questions!) Let us strengthen our resolve to learn more about pneumonia and ask our family members, fellow senior citizens, and our local communities about the free pneumonia vaccination in our barangay health centers.”

Our People

MSD gifts back hope and cheer to kids of Kythe Foundation

June 29, 2023

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MSD and Kythe Foundation

For enterprises of all sizes, giving back is a must. First and foremost, it helps uplift the community they are serving. Secondly, volunteerism can be empowering to the employees themselves, as it allows them to advocate and work for worthy causes, using their time and talent. And for the organization itself, it helps builds trust among stakeholders.

MSD in the Philippines (known as Merck & Co. Inc., Rahway, NJ, USA in the U.S. and Canada) champion volunteerism by encouraging its employees to find ways to give back to the community. Through the global volunteerism and skills share program, MSD Gives Back, employees take an active role to ‘pay it forward’ through participation in programs offered to promote a healthier society, advance education, foster the arts, address the welfare of animals and preserve the environment. 

In 2022, MSD employees in the Philippines reached out to over 200 pediatric cancer patients supported by Kythe Foundation in National Children’s Hospital, Philippine Children’s Medical Center, and Quirino Memorial Medical Center, through MSD Gifts Back to Kythe. True to the spirit of the season, employees and their families donated, dedicated, wrapped and delivered presents- mostly educational toys- to Kythe kids in the abovementioned centers. 

The company has been a long-time supporter of Kythe Foundation, a non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to the health and well-being of children with chronic illness, such as those with cancer. 

“MSD employees in the Philippines, and around the world, are passionate about giving back to their communities. Volunteerism is at the heart of MSD’s culture, and giving back is part of our DNA. We are honored to collaborate with Kythe Foundation and support its mission to help address the fears of children who are going through their cancer journey by promoting a culture of care, that allows children to learn, play and grow” said Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director. 

MSD employees led by Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director, turn over gifts to Kythe Foundation, for distribution across centers in Metro Manila and Cebu

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. 

“We at MSD aspire to improve access to health by discovering, developing and providing innovative products and services that save and improve lives. But our commitment to the community goes beyond business practices. We believe that supporting society, people and communities around the world is fundamental to our long-term success. As we serve the community where we have presence, we remain true to our purpose, “patients first,” Riedel added 

In May 2022, Kythe Foundation recognized MSD as a Corporate Volunteer Group of the Year for its continuous support and commitment. The award celebrated the exemplary volunteers from MSD who supported Kythe’s mission of improving the quality of life among hospitalized children with cancer and other chronic illnesses. 

“There is a saying, it takes a village to raise a child and I say, it takes a village to care and to cure a child patient with cancer. That’s what we are in Kythe– we are a village, we are a family.”, said the Kythe Co-Founder Maria Fatima Garcia-Lorenzo.

Kythe provides play, engagement, and psychosocial care to children living with cancer. Play is an important part of children’s development, as it helps them learn new skills and express themselves in a healthy and productive way. In the context of a cancer journey, play can provide children with a sense of control and normalcy during a difficult and uncertain time. It can also help them cope with the physical and emotional challenges of cancer treatment.

In addition to the benefits of play, psychosocial support can also be crucial for children dealing with cancer. This support can take many forms, including counseling, therapy and support groups. It can help children and their families to better understand and cope with the cancer diagnosis and treatment, and provide a safe space for them to express their emotions and concerns. 

Overall, play and psychosocial support can have a significant role in helping children to navigate the challenges of a cancer journey, and can help to improve their overall quality of life during a difficult time. 

“Whenever I see volunteers give off their time, skills and effort, I am always grateful and in awe. They could have chosen more leisure or more fun things and yet they choose to volunteer. We are thankful you make this choice. Not everyone will make that choice. Kythe will not be able to serve as many children, have an impact on so many families, nor grow the seeds of change without you who help Kythe live its mission.”, said the Kythe Executive Director, Dra. Angie Sievert-Fernandez.

Engaging in volunteer work can be an enriching experience for people. Keeping a dynamic employee engagement policy allows MSD to provide employees with opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives, through means of encouraging, empowering children and their families to fight cancer, and letting them know they’re not alone in their journey.