MSD in the Philippines reaffirms commitment to end cervical cancer

June 29, 2023

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Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer type and the second most common cause of cancer death in women of reproductive age (15–44 years) worldwide. The highest incidence and mortality rates are generally observed in countries with the lowest values of the Human Development Index.

In the Philippines, cervical cancer ranks as the 2nd most frequent cancer among women and the 2nd most frequent cancer among women. The Philippines recorded almost 8,000 new cases of cervical cancer and more than 4,000 deaths in 2020 alone.

Yet cervical cancer is largely preventable through both vaccination and screening for precursor lesions, with appropriate follow-up and treatment.

As the country celebrates Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, healthcare company MSD in the Philippines, reaffirms its unwavering commitment to empower women to be in-charge of their health by strengthening its disease awareness efforts and education campaigns to combat cervical cancer. 

As a company that puts patients at the center of what we do, MSD is committed to playing a leading role in the fight against cervical cancer. They believe that through patient empowerment and health literacy campaigns, alongside a steadfast dedication to prevention, early detection, and treatment, they can eliminate this devastating disease and improve women’s lives worldwide,” said Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD.

MSD is also working with national and local stakeholders from both public and private sector to achieve the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global strategy towards eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem. This strategy recommends a comprehensive approach to cervical cancer prevention and control. The recommended actions include interventions across the life course.

The definition of elimination of cervical cancer has been set up as a country reaching the threshold of less than 4 cases of cervical cancer per 100 000 women per year.  To reach this threshold by the end of 21st century, WHO has set up the 90-70-90 targets to be reached by 2030 and to be maintained: 90% of girls fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by age 15; 70% of women are screened with a high-performance test by 35, and again by 45 years of age; and 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment. 

Step toward cervical cancer control

The Philippine government has implemented several health programs in support of prevention and control of cervical cancer.

cervical cancer MSD

One of which is the School-based Immunization Program (SBIP) that aims to protect school-aged children against vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2015, the DOH introduced the HPV vaccination program in public schools nationwide. It has since expanded to benefit female Grade 4 students aged 9 to 13 years old to help protect them against HPV infection, cervical cancer, and other HPV-related diseases. This age group benefits the most from the vaccination program as they are not yet exposed to HPV, which usually results from sexual activity. 

For Academic Year 2022 to 2023, the DOH has procured 1.2 million doses of HPV vaccines, which will benefit 600,000 students nationwide. And with the return to face-to-face classes, it is only timely and prudent to reinstate the HPV vaccination program to help protect our students from HPV infection, cervical cancer, and other diseases caused by HPV. 

The Department of Health has also been promoting the availability of free cervical cancer screening in all trained Rural Health Units, which aims to increase early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Additionally, the government has ensured the availability of cryotherapy equipment in every province (81 provinces) to provide effective treatment for pre-cancerous lesions.

The DOH has implemented the Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF) which aims to provide support for patients living with cancer and for cancer survivors. implementation of the CAF shall cover outpatient and inpatient services including but not limited to diagnostics, therapeutic procedures, medicines, treatment and management services, and other care-related components of cancer. The CAF is designed to complement existing financial support mechanisms in public and private facilities. Cervical cancer is one of the 8 priority cancer types eligible to be financed by the CAF.

“These initiatives by the government show commitment to addressing the challenges posed by cervical cancer and improving the health outcomes of their citizens. It is important for women to take advantage of these programs and to prioritize their health by seeking early detection and treatment, “ noted Dr. Mary Ann Galang-Escalona, Country Medical Lead.

Beyond Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 

MSD is committed to improving cervical cancer care for Filipino women, from prevention to treatment, and is working with the government and key stakeholders to ensure sustainable funding, broader access, and trust in public-private partnerships for healthcare. 

This includes support in strengthening vaccine confidence through the National Immunization Program. MSD has launched a local campaign called #TimeToTalkAboutHPV, which aims to eliminate the stigma surrounding HPV and emphasize the need for prevention to avoid the physical, emotional, and economic burdens of HPV-related diseases. 

MSD is also working with private and government partners to push for the proper implementation and funding of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) through its cancer advocacy campaign, Hope From Within. 

“At MSD, we believe that every Filipina, regardless of socioeconomic status, should have access to the latest and most innovative medicines, vaccines, and therapies. We are committed to working with healthcare stakeholders and government agencies to ensure equitable access because health equity is essential to building a better, healthier future for all,” emphasized Karlo Paredes, Corporate Affairs and Market Access Director.

Initiatives to raise awareness and empower people to action do not stop on cervical cancer awareness month. In August, MSD will be hosting the 12th HPV Summit which is a platform for engagement for all sectors sharing the goal of battling HPV and cervical cancer in the Philippines. For more than 10 years, it has rallied support for promoting the health of Filipinos of all ages, particularly towards eliminating HPV and HPV-related diseases. This year’s theme “One Community Against HPV” aims to highlight the contribution of various sectors of society in protecting the Filipino population from cervical cancer.

Health Awareness

Cervical cancer lecture spotlights on achievable WHO targets through multimodal treatment

June 29, 2023

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Cervical cancer lecture

The Philippine College of Surgeons Cancer Commission Foundation, together with Cancer Coalition Philippines and Philippine Cancer Society, held a 2-day Philippine National Cancer Summit to discuss with healthcare providers and esteemed medical professionals the ways to bridge the gaps in cancer care in the Philippines. 

Dr. Efren Domingo, Gynecologist – Oncologist, discusses the state of cervical cancer detection, care, and treatment in the Philippines

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, breast, lung, colorectum, liver, and prostate cancers are the top cancer cases in the Philippines in 2020. These, and other types of cancers, result in over 92,00 deaths.  Apart from the top 5 cancer types, cervical cancer is another contributor to this number.

Cervical cancer ranks second among the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. There is a risk of cervical cancer when a female is infected with HPV human papillomavirus (HPV). The immune system usually detects and controls this infection. However, when the body’s immune system is weakened, high-risk HPV infects cells and could turn into pre-cancerous cells. In a year, an estimated 7, 897 cases of cervical cancer among women of all ages, and 4,052 of those can result in death. 

To reduce these numbers, the World Health Organization (WHO) created the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative where 90% of girls must be fully vaccinated against HPV by 15 years old; 70% of women must be screened twice within 5 to 10 years, and 90% of women with pre-cancer are treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer are managed by 2030. 

In line with this, Dr. Efren J. Domingo, Gynecologist-oncologist, discussed in a lunch symposium sponsored by healthcare company MSD in the Philippines, the state of cervical cancer detection, care, and treatment here in the country in his lecture, “Pursuing the Goal of Cervical Cancer Elimination in the Philippines.” 

He shared about how the age of sexually active females became earlier over time. In his presentation, it was discussed that female adolescents ages 14 to 15 are already sexually active, therefore having a higher chance of encountering HPV. HPV 16 and 18 are two of the high-risk HPVs commonly responsible for cervical cancer.

Early protection and screening are essential to achieving a higher survival rate. A study has shown how the HPV vaccine has greatly reduced the incidence of cervical cancer by up to 90% in a sample size of 1.7 million women under age 17. Dr. Domingo also shared how early detection also allows oncologists to implement the best solution for early-stage cancer up to Stage IIA: surgery. This procedure greatly reduces the capacity of the cancer to spread to the lungs, liver, and brain. 

“In the Philippines, because of our national handicap, our coverage of vaccination is still far from ideal. We still have to reach out to the younger women to capture the best protection before they meet the culprit virus,” Dr. Domingo mentioned.

Furthermore, based on Dr. Domingo’s lecture, while the government started vaccinating women in 2006, the country’s archipelagic nature hinders organizations and medical professionals from reaching out to more women across the country. Expenses for the vaccine and testing also come from the patient, which influences them to no longer get the vaccine and test. 

As such, women frequently consult late and are later diagnosed when the cancer has become advanced.

Fortunately, there is hope for advanced, recurrent cancer. 

Chemoradiotherapy is the standard regimen in treating advanced cancer. It is a combination of chemotherapy where the oncologist administers cancer-destroying drugs, and radiotherapy, where radiation is used to destroy cancer cells. 

The GOG 240 trial has also shown significant results in the advanced cancer patient’s survival rate. In the GOG 240 trial, using various immunotherapy drugs together showed significant results in the patient’s survival rate. 

Since multi-modal treatment has a high efficacy rate, Dr. Domingo also shared how the implementation of immunotherapy, in addition to chemoradiotherapy, could bring hope to advanced cervical cancer patients. 

“First-line treatment should be the present treatment for those with the complicated disease profile,” Dr. Domingo stated. He added that immunotherapy, together with chemoradiotherapy, should be used as first-line treatment in cases of advanced recurring cancer. 

“From the 1999 clinical announcement of a chemotherapy drug as the most remarkable achievement against cervical cancer, the next event happens now in our time. We are lucky to witness it. Together with chemotherapy, the administration of immunotherapy will achieve probably the biggest hope of a cure for the patients of this otherwise hopeless disease.” 

Dr. Domingo believes that with this line of treatment, WHO’s 90-70-90 goal by 2030 is achievable through the support of the government and the private sector. This, along with the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Law and the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, cervical cancer vaccination, screening, and treatment for all Filipino women is a plausible future.


Forum highlights public-private partnerships as key to a whole-of-society approach to immunization

June 29, 2023

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In celebration of World Immunization Week 2023, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham), in partnership with MSD in the Philippines and the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), mounted a joint committee meeting on “Creating a Disease-Free Society through Immunization” at the Robert Sears Hall, AmCham Office, on April 28, 2023.        

(From L-R: Mr. Martin Crisostomo, Pharmaceutical Committee Co-Chair, AmCham Philippines; Rep. Tony Golez, Vice Chairperson, Committee on Health, House of Representatives; Dr. Romel Lacson, Country Director, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Philippines; Mr. Andreas Riedel, President & Managing Director, Merck Sharp & Dohme Philippines; Mr. Noel Borlongan, Pharmaceutical Committee Co-Chair, AmCham Philippines; and Mr. Ebb Hinchliffe, Executive Director, AmCham Philippines)

Health is high on the agenda of AmCham Philippines, with two sector committees dedicated specifically to developing healthcare systems in the country: the Pharmaceutical Committee, and the Healthcare and Wellness Committee.

The big catch-up on immunization

“The Big Catch-Up,” the theme of this year’s World Immunization Week, highlights the world’s renewed sense of urgency to get routine immunizations back on track. Three years of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the delivery of vital health services, which include routine immunizations for children and the elderly, especially for vaccine-preventable diseases.

In the Philippines alone, nearly 1.6 million children under two years old failed to receive routine immunizations over the last three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines already had low coverage on protective vaccines. Routine immunizations for children typically include vaccination against life-threatening diseases such as polio, measles, and tuberculosis. However, according to reports from UNICEF, the Philippines has one million “zero-dose” children, or children who have never received a single dose of their childhood vaccines. 

This puts them at greater risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, polio, and diphtheria are rising worldwide. 

But all is not lost; with continued collaboration among the national government, healthcare systems, and the private sector, the Philippines can make a disease-free society possible through immunization.   

“One thing we all learned during the pandemic is the importance of vaccinations,” says Ebb Hinchliffe, Executive Director of AmCham Philippines. “It is AmCham’s role to connect—to connect with people, to connect people and businesses, and to connect businesses to the government. This celebration of World Immunization Week is a perfect time to connect, to see how we can all work together to create a disease-free society through immunization.”

Routine immunizations: The most cost-effective investment in public health

“Routine immunization is, by far, the most cost-effective public health intervention there is,” says Dr. Romel Lacson, Country Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Philippines. 

Investments in immunization yield high returns: Lacson explains that for every US$1.00 invested in immunization, there is an estimated US$52.00 return in terms of savings on healthcare costs due to diseases prevented over time. “So it’s important that the investment is there,” he adds.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the Philippines has the capacity to vaccinate,” shares Lacson. As such, COVID-19 and routine immunization services can be further integrated, so that the same level of urgency and investment directed towards COVID-19 vaccination can also be given to routine immunization for children. “Saving adults from COVID-19 should not come at the cost of children not getting their routine immunizations,” he adds. 

Public-private partnerships: The key to a whole-of-society approach to immunization

public-private partnerships immunization

A panel discussion on how to create a disease-free society through immunization

Seeing firsthand the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the impact of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in communities, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, who heads the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, shares that they have been working on several measures and initiatives to promote immunization.

One such measure is the filing of Senate Bill No. 2155, also known as the “Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) Act of 2021”. Once passed into law, the bill will establish VIP as the country’s principal laboratory for conducting virology investigations, research, and technical coordination of the entire network of virologists nationwide.

“The overall goal of the VIP is to help develop vaccines against highly pathogenic emerging viruses,” shares Go. “I am confident that this bill, along with other initiatives that we are pursuing, will help promote the importance of immunization and encourage people to get vaccinated.”

“But we cannot do this alone,” adds Go. “We need the support of all sectors of society, including the private sector, to achieve our goal of creating a disease-free society through immunization.” 

Congressman Anthony Rolando “Tony” Golez, Jr., Vice Chairperson of the Committee on Health at the House of Representatives, echoes this sentiment. “We are past the need to prioritize routine immunization—we need more investments in the manufacturing and production of vaccines to make it more available locally at a lower cost,” explains Golez.

This presents a golden opportunity for the private sector, especially vaccine manufacturers like MSD in the Philippines. Golez proposes creating a consortium of local and international pharmaceutical companies to create a robust ecosystem for vaccine manufacturing in the Philippines.          

Golez is also one of the principal authors of Republic Act No. 10606, also known as the “Universal Health Care (UHC) Act”, which aimed to ensure that all Filipinos will secure health insurance coverage from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). 

A former rural physician, Golez also filed House Bill No. 5452, also known as the “Service to Country of Physicians Act”, which requires new doctors to render six months of medical services in the countryside as a pre-requisite to getting a medical license. This will also help increase human resources for health in local government units (LGUs) to improve service delivery, supervision, monitoring, and evaluation.

Mr. Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines talks about the importance of collaboration in addressing gaps in immunization

“At MSD in the Philippines, our focus is to collaborate and raise awareness about the importance of vaccination,” says Riedel. “We want to emphasize the importance of collaboration between the private and the public sector, and, indeed, we have many opportunities to collaborate.”

“It’s also an invitation for the members of AmCham and the media to continue to partner with different stakeholders to be an effective channel to educate the population and counteract misinformation around vaccination,” adds Riedel.

Health Awareness

‘Together for Health’ forum highlights multisectoral collaboration in advancing patient-centric healthcare

June 29, 2023

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The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), in partnership with MSD in the Philippines and AC Health, hosted a media enablement session titled “Together for Health,” which seeks to help deepen journalists’ appreciation of relevant healthcare issues and the importance of making health topics more accessible to the broader public.

Partnerships for health continue to be essential in managing ongoing challenges, anticipating and addressing health-related issues, and providing new opportunities to encourage health-seeking behaviors and contribute to the population. ‘Together for Health’ underscores the importance of multisectoral collaboration in pushing for continuous progress in healthcare during and beyond the pandemic.

The event gathered renowned scientific experts, health leaders and decision-makers, and patient groups to provide insights and share their perspectives through an interactive panel discussion. Hosted by broadcast journalist and health and family advocate Jing Castaneda, the session will address current trends, the impact and lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare, and insights on the way forward.

As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down and the world moves toward an endemic phase, the event aims to remind the public not to lose their newfound appreciation for their health.

“As we navigate the post-pandemic era, we encourage the media to be our allies in promoting health literacy. Together, we can complement the efforts of our partners at the Department of Health in advancing medically verified health information which can empower patients and create healthier communities. We believe that we can achieve this through collaborations and by making healthcare a national agenda,” added Teodoro Padilla, PHAP Executive Director.

The health forum also tackled the significance of health literacy, highlighting the need for patients to access, comprehend, and apply health information and services. It is essential to be mindful of one’s health as part of daily life, not solely when seeking medical attention. It is in this regard that health literacy can aid in preventing health issues, safeguarding one’s health, and managing health problems effectively. Encouraging multi-stakeholder collaboration is vital in promoting health literacy to empower patients and establish healthier communities.

“We recognize and support the role of media in informing, educating, and guiding Filipinos, especially in times of crises. By providing accurate and comprehensive health information, we can inspire people to take charge of their health and demand better healthcare policies,” said Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines.

Experts suggest three major changes to learn from the pandemic and promote better public health: revisiting and strengthening public health systems, prioritizing universal health coverage, and implementing holistic policies that prioritize health as part of the national agenda.

“Collaboration across different sectors is key in ensuring that healthcare services are accessible and affordable for all Filipinos. Through partnerships, we can create innovative solutions and bring quality healthcare closer to communities in need. We look forward to working with our fellow healthcare advocates in achieving our shared goal of improving healthcare for all,” said Paolo Borromeo, AC Health CEO and President.

With the pandemic now three years in, it is an opportune time to evaluate successes and continue to improve healthcare delivery for Filipinos. Sharing lessons learned and engaging media practitioners will help combat misinformation and build resilience.

Every two minutes, a woman dies of cervical cancer worldwide. In the Philippines, nearly 11 Filipinas succumb to the disease every day. This means that every two hours, a family could lose a wife, mother, aunt, sister, and yes, even a daughter in her teen years.

“At the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) where I practice, we have the youngest case. She’s 13 years old with stage 3 cervical cancer,” shared Dr. Efren Domingo, president of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society. “She became a commercial sex worker at the age of six.”

The saddest part? This could have been prevented.

“A woman’s death is both a personal tragedy and a sad, unnecessary loss to her family and community,” said Dr. Rui de Jesus, World Health Organization representative to the Philippines. “These deaths are unnecessary because there is compelling evidence that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer if it is detected early and managed effectively.”

Here are the three most important things you can do to save the women in your life from cervical cancer:

  • Encourage them to get vaccinated against HPV. Girls as young as nine years old can already get vaccinated.
  • Encourage them to have regular screening tests.
  • Bring them back to their OB-GYN if the screening test results aren’t normal.

A Nation free of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer remains a burden, especially in low-resource countries like the Philippines where facilities for prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment are lacking.

Records show that half a million cases are diagnosed every year and nearly 50% occur in Asia. More than half of those diagnosed every year will die in the same year because most of the time, they are diagnosed very late.

In observance of Cervical Cancer Month last May and to further create awareness about the dreaded disease, ADR Stratbase, in partnership with Jhpiego Philippines, Cancer Coalition Philippines, the POGS, and UHC Watch launched the “Philippine Cervical Cancer Elimination Movement (The Movement),” a forum that gathered stakeholders to discuss evidence-based and cost-effective interventions that will scale up the elimination of cervical cancer in the Philippines.

“The WHO, which envisions a world where cervical cancer is eliminated as a public health problem, initiated studies (in August 2020) that determined the incidences in 185 countries. And the target is to achieve an incidence rate of below four per 100,000 women in Asia and Latin America,” noted Dr. Domingo, one of the keynote speakers. “Achieving that goal rests on key pillars and their self-corresponding targets — the 90-70-90 — that hopefully will be met by the Philippines by the year 2030.”

To achieve that goal, “90-70-90” means that 90% of girls must be fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by the age of 15; 70% of women must be screened with a high-performance test by 35 years of age and again at 45 years of age; and that 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment, 90% of women with pre-cancer are treated, and 90% of women with invasive cancer are managed.

While there are laws in place, the question remains: How can the Philippines achieve this target?

The global strategy of the WHO emphasized the importance of partnership, advocacy, and communication. And that’s where The Movement comes in.

Committed to reversing the current cervical cancer statistics through collaborative and unified efforts, The Movement started Call for Solidarity, an online petition signed by key stakeholders and disseminated to the public. The petition targets at least 11,000 signatures — to give voice to 11 women who die of cervical cancer every day in the country.

In line with this strategy, The Movement calls for:

  • Support for women to get vaccinated, screened, and diagnosed
  • National and local government to institutionalize the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) provisions on patient navigation, palliative care, and pain management
  • LGUs to include cervical cancer programs and services in their health and development
  • Investments in prevention and screening, alongside the provision of adequate funds for scaling up human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination, HPV DNA screening, and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions and invasive cancer
  • Increased coverage and reach of the Philhealth Z-Benefits Package to include HPV DNA screening
  • Collaborative and innovative solutions in a whole-of-society approach to combat cervical cancer in the country.

“Continuous support and advocacy from different stakeholders are needed to sustain responsive health services in the Philippines,” said Stratbase ADR Institute president and CEO Prof. Victor Andres Manhit in his welcome address. “We must all work together to make universal healthcare a reality for everyone.”

“We cannot do it alone as oncologists; we have to collaborate with government, with the public health sector, with the community experts, as well as even the pain and rehabilitation specialists,” Dr. Domingo seconded.

Challenges to the cause

Based on the WHO baseline analysis on Global Cervical Cancer Elimination covering 185 countries, the incidence of cervical cancer peaked at age 35 and thereafter remained constant at low levels in higher-income countries with high screening coverage.

In contrast, in low- or middle-income countries (such as the Philippines), trends are likely to increase in the absence of scale-up preventive interventions such as screening and HPV vaccination.

“Utilization of cervical cancer screening is unfortunately still low in this country. There is a need to increase budget and to convince government to put in more personnel, as well as instrumentations necessary to achieve the goal,” said Dr. Domingo.

He cited the unavailability of facilities and expertise, and high out-of-pocket costs for the patient, among the factors of failed cervical cancer screening.

Although landmark Philippine legislation like the Universal Health Care Act and the NICCA Law allow for budget allocations from the General Appropriations Act, such budgets are largely focused on cancer treatment and management.

“Separate funding is needed for prevention and primary care, including HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening,” said Dr. Jan Aura Laurelle V. Llevado, Cancer Control Division chief at the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH).

“It is important to introduce vaccination early, and the target should really be to include it in the community and school venues,” advised Dr. Domingo.

New strategies to combat cervical cancer

The consortium-led Scale Up Cervical Cancer Elimination with Secondary Prevention Strategy (SUCCESS) Project has been instrumental in introducing a simplified cervical cancer screening using HPV DNA testing with self-collection sampling, and treatment of precancerous lesions with thermal ablation.

Dr. De Jesus lauded SUCCESS for facilitating the introduction of accessible screening and early treatment for cervical cancer. WHO also endorses HPV DNA detection as the primary screening test in the general population of women and women living with HIV Dr. Ingrid Magnata, country program manager of Jhpiego Philippines, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, and Strategies Lead of the SUCCESS Project in the Philippines, regards self-collection to be a game-changer in cervical cancer elimination.

However, patient education is still critical for SUCCESS. She shared that for every 100 women who register for HPV DNA screening in a community in Tondo, only 50 will come during the actual day.

“Women fear a positive diagnosis — the message must be reinforced that cervical cancer is preventable, treatable, and can be eliminated,” Dr. Magnata added.

Cervical cancer survivors and supporters gathered during the “Women Bloom SolidariTeal” at Baluarte de San Diego Garden, Intramuros, Manila on Friday, June 9.

The “Women Bloom in SolidariTeal” is an event of health organizations Hope From Within and Guards Against HPV (human papillomavirus), hosted by healthcare company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) Philippines.

Cancer survivors and their loved ones, medical experts, and health champions who are committed to creating a future free from cervical cancer gathered during the occasion.

During the event, health experts said cervical cancer is a preventable and highly treatable disease. It is the second most frequent form of cancer among women in the Philippines, with almost 8,000 Filipinas diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2020.

President of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS) Dr. Efren Domingo graced the event to educate the people about cervical cancer.

“Ito ay tumor malignant na tumutubo sa cervix. Ito ang pinaka-leading and common cancer sa kababaihan (It is a malignant tumor that grows in the cervix. It is the most leading and common cancer in women),” Domingo said.

“Consult your gynecologist when they reach 20 years old when they feel they’re already an adult,” he advised.

Cervical cancer survivors Belay Fernando and Eden Lucero shared how the disease affected their lives.

The World Health Organization’s “90-70-90 target” campaign toward a cervical cancer-free future was discussed by the chair of Cervical Cancer Prevention Network (CECAP), Dr. Cecilia Llave.

According to Llave, the 90-70-90 campaign stands for 90 percent of children and adolescents ages 15 and above will be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine, while 70 percent of women between the age of 35 and 45 will be screened using a high-performance test, and the other 90 for women who were diagnosed with pre-malignant lesions or invasive that will be treated either by surgery, chemoradiation, or even palliation.

“It is very possible to eliminate cervical cancer,” Llave added.

The event sought to invite everyone to take part in promoting a safer and healthier future and in battling cervical cancer among Filipinas

Health Awareness

More than just another Jab: The role of vaccines in helping prevent certain diseases

November 7, 2022

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Vaccines have had a significant positive impact on human health. Their administration has led to a drop in the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases that were historically fatal to millions. During the COVID-19 outbreak, the world was reminded of the vital role that a single vaccine plays not just for one’s health but for the well-being of populations around the globe.

“COVID-19 vaccines are one of the most incredible medical advances in history. Unfortunately, many people do not appreciate the level of importance of vaccines. These vaccines will be the solution, the way for us to end this current pandemic,” said Dr. Melvin Sanicas, Infectious Diseases Global Health Specialist and Ten Outstanding Young Men 2021 Awardee.

This year’s World Immunization Week theme, “Long Life for All,” highlights that we have a part in promoting the use of all available vaccines to help protect people of all ages against disease.

In line with this year’s theme of ‘Long Life for All,’ the ImMUnity Team of the Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority, University of the Philippines-Manila College of Medicine (UPCM), held a webinar entitled ImMUnization: A Passport to Longevity. This brought focus on the relevance of immunization through the ages and for all ages. The event was organized by the UP Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, the Mu Sigma Phi Foundation, and healthcare company MSD in the Philippines.

Keeping its commitment to promoting vaccine confidence alongside the health community, MSD actively engages in multi-stakeholder collaborations, such as the advocacy partnership with UPCM – Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority, Inc., to address the challenges of vaccine hesitancy and emphasize the importance of a life-course vaccination. MSD also supports campaigns that aim to enhance vaccine confidence by communicating the value of immunization in helping save lives and preventing vaccine-preventable diseases and outbreaks.

A life-course approach to immunization

Vaccination programs often focus on distinct life stages, such as childhood immunization, but evidence supports a life-course approach where vaccination is given throughout an individual’s life. The life-course approach to vaccination stems from the simple fact that the risk of infectious diseases extends far beyond childhood and into old age. With this life-course vaccine approach, not only will individuals reap the benefits, but it will also have a favorable impact on public health and socioeconomics.

The National Immunization Program (NIP) of the Department of Health aims to provide Filipinos access to routinely recommended vaccines. It also aims to help reduce morbidity and mortality among children against the most common vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) like tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and measles. The program currently provides vaccines against VPDs for newborns, infants, older children, pregnant women, and senior citizens.

The government’s vaccination services are set to continue with adaptive guidelines to help protect vulnerable age groups like senior citizens, who are more prone to acquiring pneumococcal diseases. It is also stipulated under RA 9994 or the “Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010” that indigent senior citizens are entitled to free vaccinations for pneumonia and influenza.

“Please ensure children have the right vaccination because they are our future. Let’s give them a long and fruitful life in a country where vaccination is at the forefront of our health delivery system in previous years,” Philippine Foundation for Vaccination Executive Director Dr. Lulu Bravo emphasized.

Vaccine matters

Despite the evidence of health gains from immunization programs, some groups have always resisted vaccines. Dr. Bravohoped addresses this by highlighting the importance of vaccines and sharing practical tips on how to deal with vaccine hesitancy.

“Vaccines do not kill. Misinformation and disinformation kill,” Dr. Bravo emphasized. She stressed that communication plays an essential role in fighting vaccine hesitancy and relaying the message about how vaccines work for our health and the community.

Building vaccine confidence and a more resilient health system require addressing the stigma surrounding vaccination, which prohibits many people from getting the vaccinations that will help protect them against vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Engage with the hesitant people. There is no single solution. We must understand their motivation. People need to be listened to, and vaccination framed in a way that it matters to them,” she encouraged. “You can help by positively shaping public perception of the benefits of immunization. Increase awareness of the burden of diseases in life and the economy. Dispel myths and rumors on immunization.”

The Mu Sigma Phi Medical Sorority (MSPS) also helped spur awareness about the benefits of vaccines through a social media campaign on TikTok. “Social media is an important tool in our arsenal to educate and urge Filipinos, especially the youth, about vaccination. Through this campaign, we hoped to engage them in this popular platform and emphasize how vaccines help save lives,” shared Ron Villas, MSPS Service Committee Chairperson.

Meanwhile, Dr. Beverly Ho, Director IV of the Department of Health, Health Promotion Bureau, enumerated the government’s programs and campaigns to promote the acceptance and usage of vaccines. “Vaccines may offer protection from vaccine-preventable diseases across life stages. Among the vaccines provided for free under the National Immunization program include vaccines against tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, polio, pneumonia, measles, mumps, and rubella.

Dr. Ho underscored that routine immunization is the foundation for strong, resilient health systems and universal health coverage. “However, we also want to inform the public that routine immunization is only a part of the overall health program of the government, and there is still a need for regular consultations at your local health centers.”

Dr. Ho further emphasized that “immunization is just one of the basic health services that infants, children, teenagers, women, and senior citizens need, and part of the department’s catch-up immunization program is to vaccinate at least 80% of the remaining 1,100,000 infants who missed their routine immunization in 2021 due the pandemic.”

Having a resilient and sustainable immunization system depends on building vaccine confidence. Hence, stronger collaboration among stakeholders plays a crucial role in raising awareness about how vaccines may help protect oneself, one’s family, and the community from vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as emphasizing vaccines’ importance at all stages in the pursuit of building a healthy citizenry.

This article was originally published in

Health Awareness

It’s #TimeToTalkAboutHPV and chart the path towards a cervical cancer-free Philippines

November 4, 2022

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Let’s stop spreading fake news. We should stop spreading wrong information that cervical cancer immediately means a death sentence – it is not!” 

This is the appeal of the panel of doctors and patient advocates who spearheaded the freshly held health talk on cervical cancer titled #TimeToTalkAboutHPV: A health forum on HPV prevention and cancer control. Organized by the Cervical Cancer Prevention Network of the Philippines (CECAP), together with the Asia & Oceania Federation of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AOFOG), the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS), and MSD in the Philippines, the media forum aims to serve as a reminder that cervical cancer is preventable with regular screening tests and the HPV vaccination.

Cervical cancer is largely preventable through both vaccination and screening for precursor lesions (pap smear at least every three years and HPV DNA testing for women starting age 30), with appropriate follow-up and treatment. With access to accurate information, preventive services, and routine gynecological care, most cases of the disease can be prevented and successfully treated at an early stage.

In spite of this, cervical cancer ranks as the 2nd most frequent cancer among women in the Philippines and the 2nd most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age. Current estimates indicate that every year 7,897 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,052 die from the disease.

Cervical cancer develops at the entrance to the uterus from the vagina, and around 99 percent of the cases are linked to HPV or human papillomaviruses. Modes of transmission include sexual contact, skin-to-skin contact, and rarely, through objects exposed to the virus.  

It’s a highly-treatable disease if detected at its early stages. The precancerous stage provides ample window for detection and treatment, and it could take as long as 30 years before it reaches malignancy.  However, it is one of the most common types of cancer and a common cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, affecting mostly young, uneducated women from poor countries.  

But more recently, COVID-19 has taken a toll on women’s health as studies have shown a gap in missed routine preventative exams and screening visits. “I think the world has been focused on Covid for the past 2 ½ years, and we have overlooked other health concerns,” said Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim, professor and chief of the division of infectious and tropical diseases in pediatrics at the University of the Philippines-Manila College of Medicine. “It is only recently when vulnerabilities to vaccine-preventable diseases are being noticed once again.”     

Things you need to know about HPV 

One life-altering issue that deserves focus is the huge burden that continues to threaten women and men, including teenagers worldwide, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). “HPV is a virus that causes a wide range of diseases,” said MSD executive director of medical affairs for vaccines and infectious disease Dr. Mel Kohn. 

“Apart from cervical cancer, the 2nd leading cancer for Filipinas, HPV can give men head and neck cancer, anal cancer for both sexes, and a variety of less common but also devastating kinds of cancers,” he enumerated. Examples are vaginal and vulvar cancers and penile cancer.

“Genital warts, while it doesn’t kill you, can be quite devastating,” said Dr. Kohn. “It is quite common and very difficult to eradicate. Imagine the psychological toll on the patient. Again, prevention is the best approach here.” 

HPV is common. It is passed from one person to another during sexual contact. “It’s a quiet epidemic, unlike COVID,” he warned. Unlike the measles that have an obvious expression, “you don’t immediately see it when you meet somebody, but it’s there and has been growing rather insidiously.”

The Philippines has a population of 37.8 million women ages 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. About 2.9% of women in the general population are estimated to harbor cervical HPV-16/18 infection at a given time, and 58.6% of invasive cervical cancers are attributed to HPVs 16 or 18.

Although some of the infections from this commonly occurring virus with more than 100 types usually go away on their own, at least 14 types of HPV have been found to be cancer-causing.

The age indication for HPV vaccines is as young as nine years old for both girls and boys. Teens and young adults through age 26 years who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also should have HPV vaccination. Women up to age 45 may be eligible for vaccination after discussing it with their provider.

According to Dr. Ong-Lim, they are targeting the young ones because of their increased susceptibility to infections. 

“That particular age group demonstrates optimal immune response. Also, only two doses are needed to achieve protection,” she shared.

But more importantly, giving the vaccine at a younger age ensures that they are already protected before they become sexually active. “HPV vaccines work best when given before exposure to the virus. We must try to catch that window when the immune system really responds very well to it,”  Dr. Ong-Lim explained. 

Manila Declaration: Call to Action Against Cervical Cancer chair and practicing OB-Gynecologist Dr. Jean Anne Toral mentioned that the young and adult fertility study done recently indicates that the average age Filipina women become sexually active is 18.2 years old. “Giving the vaccine at age 9-15 would be beneficial as there is no life event that exactly pinpoints exposure to HPV apart from age of sexual debut,” she said.

There will be seven to eight out of 10 women who will be exposed to HPV at one point in their life, “But not all women will develop cervical cancer,” Dr. Toral assured. The probability of HPV exposure developing into cancer increases if a patient smokes, is exposed to other sexually-transmitted diseases, and has HIV.

School-based HPV vaccination

As part of the government’s effort to protect children and adolescents from vaccine-preventable diseases, the Department of Health, together with partner agencies, has rolled out the School-Based Immunization (SBI) Program. 

The SBI Program includes measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria (MR-TD), and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that are administered to eligible students in public elementary schools. The inclusion of HPV vaccination in the SBI Program aims to protect young women from cervical cancer later in life, among other diseases associated with HPV. 

Under the DOH’s SBI Program, HPV vaccination is given to grade 4 based on DOH’s recommended age group to receive the two doses of the HPV vaccine, six months apart, for protection against cervical cancer. 

Prior to administering the vaccine, parents’ consent must first be obtained by school officials. That is why vaccination education campaigns usually highlight the role of parents in fortifying the health shield of their children through timely vaccination against diseases.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the HPV vaccination, which was formerly delivered through the SBI Program, is now being shifted as part of the Community-based Immunization to be able to still deliver HPV vaccination to young girls amidst the pandemic to protect them against cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases and cancers.

Towards a cervical cancer-free future 

The elimination of cervical cancer has been defined as achieving an incidence rate low enough for the disease to be considered controlled as a public-health problem; this threshold has been defined by the WHO as fewer than 4 cases per 100,000 women per year.

To accomplish this, every country must reach and maintain three key targets within the lifetime of today’s young generation. The first is for 90 percent of girls to be fully vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) by the age of 15. The second is to ensure that 70 percent of women are screened using a high-performance test by the age of 35 and again by age 45. The final target is for 90 percent of women with pre-cancer to receive treatment and for 90 percent of women with invasive cancer to have their condition properly managed.

Achieving this vision and each of the elimination targets will require a whole-of-society and multisectoral approach to ensure health systems prioritize women and girls. Individuals, families, communities, civil society, and government agencies at all levels have a role to play in championing greater awareness, education, and social support.

Cervical Cancer HPV

Carmen Auste, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Warriors Foundation Inc. said that the Philippines is among the countries that declared commitment together with WHO to finally eradicate cervical cancer in the country by 2040 and by 2030 worldwide. “There is already one type of cancer that we can delete or ‘block’ like social media,” she humored. “To attain that goal, we must augment HPV vaccine uptake and educate the Filipinos on HPV, vaccines, and cancers caused by HPV,” she said.

Auste mentioned the SUCCESS (‘Scale-up Cervical Cancer Elimination with Secondary prevention Strategy’) project as one of the advocacies recently launched in selected barangays. Led by Expertise France and delivered in collaboration with Jhpiego and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) in support of WHO, the project aims to deploy innovative solutions to fight cervical cancer in four countries, including the Philippines. 

At this critical juncture, we must empower women and rally our neighbors, community leaders, and governments to take action and save thousands of lives. If widespread, high coverage of these interventions can be achieved by 2030 and maintained, research predicts cervical cancer can be eliminated in most countries globally by 2120—avoiding over 63 million deaths of women globally.

Together, let’s commit to women everywhere to end cervical cancer.

This article was originally published on

Our People

MSD in the Philippines harnesses lessons from the pandemic for a more human-centric workplace

November 4, 2022

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Andreas Riedel, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines, addresses employees as the company launched its new strategic priorities and hybrid work setup.

Over the last two years of the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry needed to step up in ensuring access to life-saving medicines and vaccines amid unprecedented challenges. For global healthcare leader MSD in the Philippines, navigating across lockdowns and uncertainties meant that it needed to actively listen to the needs of its own people, and respond through innovative workplace practices and initiatives, so its employees may be well-equipped and enabled to continue delivering impactful healthcare solutions to patients and communities.

MSD President and Managing Director Andreas Riedel explains, “By continuing to build MSD as a great place to work, we aim to empower our employees to deliver our purpose of saving and improving the lives of Filipino patients.”

At the onset of the lockdowns in 2020, MSD in the Philippines stepped up to support its employees, through innovative workplace programs and initiatives. MSD’s HR team worked with MSD’s leadership team to organize daily check-ins with the purpose of monitoring both the employees’ and their family’s health status, set up an employee help hotline, conducted surveys to assess the evolving challenges and needs of its talent, and held weekly virtual townhall meetings to provide information, updates and guidance to the team, to ensure the safety and well- being of the employees, and equip them to continue serving patients, amidst uncertainties.

Dollette Wong, Hospital Acute Care Product Manager shares, “The daily check-ins took getting used to, to be honest. But it truly showed that they were really looking after us. It was a very simple act—communicating with your manager how you and your family are, even on weekends at the height of the pandemic—but it had a good impact on the people. It showed us they really care.”

Power of Speaking Up & Being Heard

Wong describes how families incurred unforeseen additional expenses during the height of the pandemic because everyone remained at home. To augment the employees’ financial resources, MSD provided daily allowance and increased internet allowance allocation “so even though we’re doing our work from home, we were well-compensated and we felt cared for.”

Riedel believes that it is important for leadership to listen and respond to employee feedback, as it builds a culture of trust and openness in the organization. “I’m a strong believer in the power of speaking up to drive innovation. Something we like to point out is that in every employee session that we had, we always left enough time and opportunity for colleagues to ask questions so that we could hear them, understand their challenges, and be quicker in adjusting to new scenarios. The information that we got from these was very important and helped us come up with the right initiatives to support our colleagues during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

A Culture of Agility

For Haydee Antonio, CVM Senior Professional Healthcare Representative, whose fieldwork entailed almost 100% face-to-face engagement, pivoting to fully digital because of the quarantine situation proved quite challenging. Thankfully, prior to the pandemic, MSD was already strengthening its digital capabilities, which means that the field workers had already obtained consent from doctors to connect with them through electronic mail. “That was a great boost for us going into the pandemic already partially digital. We were almost ready for that.”

According to Riedel, MSD takes to heart its responsibility of guiding the organization to lead—and not merely adapt—to ongoing shifts in the healthcare system and the communities it serves. “We are focused and invested on two aspects of agility: the first one is acting with urgency. What this means is that we are reviewing key processes to simplify the way we act and make decisions so we can move faster as an organization. The other aspect is flexibility, really being able to adapt quickly and propel innovation. Our organization encourages our employees to experiment, learn, and adapt because the evolving needs of the patients cannot wait.”

Best of Both Worlds

As the government gradually eased pandemic restrictions in the workplace, due largely to the downtrend of COVID-19 cases after the first quarter of 2021, businesses have started welcoming back employees. MSD moved to a hybrid work model with the aim of keeping employees safe, and thus able to continue serving patients well even amid an ongoing pandemic. With the new policy, office-based colleagues have the option to work 2 or 3 days from the office, and the rest of the week from their homes.

The coming to the office with the implementation of strict health protocols following IATF (Inter- Agency Task Force) guidelines.

To ensure that the first week would feel like a special reunion after almost two years of remote work, the organization prepared welcome activities and gave personalized gift packs for employees coming back to the office. “What I can share from that week is that I saw many, many smiles; I felt their excitement of being together and working closely in person again,” says Riedel.

The company has been receiving favorable feedback from employees on the new hybrid workplace model. On the days they work from home, they value the time saved from commuting, and the chance to spend it with their families. At the same time, they recognize the importance of being together in the office to collaborate effectively, make faster decisions, and be more agile in delivering innovations that matter to patients.

Wellness and High Performance

Another innovative workplace solution recently implemented is the enhancement of employees’ home office. MSD in the Philippines partnered with a leading and global furniture supplier to provide eligible employees with height-adjustable or fixed-height desks and chairs, pre-approved based on high standards of safety and ergonomic quality. The home office furniture provision received favorable feedback, with employees saying it was a demonstration of how the company puts a high value on employees’ health and wellness, so they can succeed while working from home.

Evolved Ways of Working

MSD in the Philippines recently refocused its strategic priorities, to help employees deliver the company’s value to the patients and other stakeholders. Setting the tone from the top, programs like Listening Circles and Huddles– where different groups of employees get a chance to share their thoughts, challenges, and innovative ideas directly with the President of the company, encourage a culture of openness, personal leadership and innovation. Riedel points out that these specific initiatives are “open to anyone who wants to join, because every employee’s unique point of view matters, and contributes to the success of the organization.”

MSD in the Philippines, led by its President and Managing Director Andreas Riedel, together with the country leadership team, launched its refocused strategic priorities and evolved ways of working to better deliver on its purpose of saving and improving the lives of Filipino patients. 

Riedel describes the company’s evolved ways of working: “Through this pandemic and beyond, we are focused on unleashing the power of our people through a corporate culture where employees are supported and encouraged to focus on what matters—the patients, our partners and customers in the health care community, and their own professional and personal well-being.”

“It’s been worthwhile to see our colleagues actively engaged in their own roles, their own growth and welfare even as the world still battles COVID-19,” he says. “All of our employee-focused initiatives and workplace innovations aim to help us understand the needs of our own people so we could better collaborate to fulfill our purpose of saving and improving the lives of Filipino patients.”

This article was originally published in Business Mirror.

Our People

MSD in the Philippines announces Andreas Riedel as new President and Managing Director

August 22, 2022

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MSD in the Philippines (NYSE: MRK), a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc, Kenilworth, NJ, USA, today announced the appointment of Mr. Andreas Riedel as its new President and Managing Director. He succeeds Dr. Beaver Tamesis who has announced his retirement from the pharmaceutical company.

The leadership transition reaffirms the company’s commitment of inventing for life, for Filipino patients. Mr. Riedel brings with him more than 20 years of experience in regional and local roles in emerging markets, including Argentina, Chile, and the Philippines. As chair of Business Sustainability and Board of Directors member for the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, he was pivotal in shaping the Philippine healthcare environment through programs created for long-term sustainability.

Prior to joining MSD, he was the Country Manager of Pfizer Philippines, where he developed an enterprise-wide strategic plan that improved health outcomes of populations and greatly impacted patients’ lives. With a special focus on Market Access, he laid the foundation for the largest COVID-19 vaccine agreement with the local government. 

His strong background in population health will boost the company’s capability in closing the gap between pharmaceutical innovation and access to groundbreaking medicines, two areas that MSD in the Philippines actively advances. 

New Opportunities Amid Challenges

Andreas Riedel steps into the role as the Philippines is currently experiencing a manifold health concerns in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, vaccine-preventable diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and COVID, among others. 

He says that the ongoing pandemic has underscored the need for broader access to quality health care. “One of the lessons that we need to take from this experience is that we need to work together, urgently and unceasingly- with government, industry, health care professionals, and the communities, to find sustainable ways of making quality health care accessible. We’ve learned that the well-being of one affects the health of the broader community.”

Mr. Riedel thanks his predecessor, Dr. Tamesis, for his valuable service to the company. “The progress he has brought through his leadership will serve as our foundation to further MSD’s mission as an innovative organization that always puts patients first.” 

Saving More Lives 

Dr. Tamesis has had an inspirational career in MSD spanning 27 years. In 2013, he earned the distinction of being the first-ever Filipino managing director of MSD in the Philippines since it operated onshore in the 1960s. The cardiologist has since transformed MSD into a force that brings perspectives together to make a difference in the patients’ lives. 

The outgoing managing director will leave behind a strong legacy in urgently important areas such as Diabetes, women’s health, immunization, oncology, and public health education. “It’s been an honor to lead the company in bringing MSD’s innovative health solutions for the Filipino patients,” Dr. Tamesis said. 

With Mr. Riedel as managing director at this critical juncture, MSD in the Philippines will continue to lead in furthering positive health outcomes among Filipinos. Through timely intervention and stakeholder collaboration, the company aims to continue delivering innovative medicines and vaccines to save more lives of Filipino patients. 

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