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Call on our industry partners to join the fight against Cervical Cancer

July 9, 2024

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In the Philippines, every two hours, a Filipina dies from cervical cancer. It is the second most frequent cancer among Filipino women and girls, particularly those in the prime of their lives (from 15 to 44 years of age). Every day, an estimated 12 Filipinas die from this disease, with more than 4,000 lives lost, yearly.1 Each devastating death of a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend is an unnecessary loss. Unnecessary, because the knowledge and tools to prevent and even eliminate cervical cancer are available. Cervical cancer is preventable, through vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus behind 99.7% of Cervical Cancer2. Screening and early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment and can save lives. 

The health care industry, and the business community at large, role in giving women- who hold “half-the-sky” in the workplace and in our communities– a stronger shield against this preventable disease.  

As a company that puts patients at the center of everything we do, MSD is committed to our role in the fight against cervical cancer—using the power of leading-edge science to bring innovation in cancer care, from prevention to treatment. 

Moreover, as part of One Community Against Cervical Cancer, we have strengthened our strategic collaboration with leaders from the government, the medical community, the private sector, and patient groups to advance cervical cancer elimination in the Philippines. Working with a community of advocates, our efforts are focused on ensuring access—to information, life-saving vaccines and medicines, and diagnostics and care—for every person at risk of cervical cancer. 

A shared commitment: public-private partnerships

The Philippines is one of 194 countries that in 2020 committed to the World Health Organization’s 90-70-90 Global Strategy to eliminate cervical cancer,3 based on three pillars and their corresponding targets: vaccinating 90% of girls with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15; screening 70% of women using a high-performance test by the age of 35, and again by the age of 45; and treating 90% of women with pre-cancer and 90% of women with invasive cancer.

Gynecologic cancers, such as cancer of the cervix, are included among the eight cancer types that the Department of Health (DOH) has prioritized. The National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA or Republic Act 11215), signed into law on 14 February 2019, also allows for a comprehensive cancer control program and a Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF), aimed toward reducing incidence and mortality rates from preventable cancers, making cancer care and treatment more affordable and accessible, and supporting cancer survivors in their recovery and reintegration to society. 

We support and share in the government’s aims, and have advocated for the earliest interventions, such as re-doubling efforts at prevention, long before there is a need for treatment. MSD participates in the national immunization drive spearheaded by the DOH, with the assistance of the Department of Education (for school-based inoculation against HPV) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (for community-based inoculation against HPV). To protect women and children, we have supported capacity-building efforts for local government unit (LGU
)-led immunization programs across the Philippines including Banna in Ilocos Norte, the first municipality in the Philippines to achieve a 91.16% vaccination rate of girls aged 9 to 14 years. This unprecedented achievement by a fourth-class municipality is proof positive that the national goal to achieve the 90-70-90 targets is indeed possible. 

MSD in the Philippines is working with both public and private partners to advocate for prioritization and proper implementation of the national cancer control program, towards a cervical cancer-free Philippines. Most recently, MSD partnered with the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) to organize the forum, “Together for Health: Making a United Stand Against Cervical Cancer,”  on 5 April 2024, gathering champions to share survivors’ stories, raise awareness, and call for concrete and effective action. 

In time for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, MSD also hosted the 1st Philippine Cervical Cancer Elimination Summit: One Community Against HPV on 16 May 2024, gathering stakeholders—among them the United Action Against Cervical Cancer Taskforce Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society, the Philippine Society of Pharmacist Vaccinators, Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, patient advocacy groups, and LGUs—to pledge their commitments and contributions to achieving the 90-70-90 targets. 

This was followed by the cervical cancer awareness event, “Cervical Cancer: Di mo DeCerv” on 26 May 2024, bringing together medical organizations, patient communities, and healthcare companies to amplify the advocacy. No one deserves to suffer from cervical cancer, and they shouldn’t—we can help not just those at risk of contracting cervical cancer, the women and girls, but also those who can transmit HPV which leads to cervical cancer, and that includes the male population. 

Walk the talk: start in your own workplace

It is heartening to see that the lead government agencies are advocating HPV vaccination and, as of May, HPV DNA testing as well, kickstarting screening services within their own workforce.4 What about private sector leadership? 

Private companies in the Philippines play a significant role in addressing the burden of cervical cancer, by spreading awareness, promoting vaccination, and soliciting support for the campaign against HPV and cervical cancer, starting with our own employees

Anchored on the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Labor Advisory No. 20, “Guidelines on the Implementation of the Workplace Policy and Program on Cancer Prevention and Control in the Private Sector,” which was released on 15 September 2023, developing a Cancer Prevention and Control in the Workplace Policy and Program (workplace CPCPP) institutionalizes safety nets for employees in terms of health education and prevention; access to screening, diagnosis, and treatment; and return to work, compensation, and other social policies. Adopting a well-crafted workplace CPCPP will help promote a safe and healthy lifestyle among employees, and reinforce good habits through the conduct of awareness campaigns. 

In our company, we prioritize addressing health risks by ensuring that our own MSD employees, and by extension, their dependents, can avail of life-saving vaccines. To date, we have protected hundreds of employees and their dependents, from HPV, pneumococcal infections, shingles and influenza. The cancer-preventive HPV vaccine is especially critical for female employees at risk of contracting cervical cancer, including those in their 30s and 40s, among the most productive years at work. 

At MSD, we are dedicated to supporting people living and working with cancer. We support and have initiated cancer awareness campaigns that not only help destigmatize cancer but also encourage flexible accommodations benefiting cancer patients and survivors in the workplace. We take our cues from the head office, an accredited CEO Cancer Gold Standard employer, and a founding member of the Working with Cancer pledge, to help provide a more open, supportive and recovery-forward culture at work. Actively listening to our colleagues who are cancer patients, and understanding their needs, will further refine polices that allow them to feel more secure at work, such that they do not need to worry about their jobs on top of worrying for their lives. 

The road to cervical cancer elimination in the Philippines 

Eliminating cervical cancer in the Philippines- through the 90-70-90 strategy requires concerted and accelerated commitment and action from all sectors, and we in the business community continue to play a more active role in its realization- as many of those impacted are women in the workplace. By getting involved in public dialogue, awareness and education drives, and implementation efforts led by the Department of Health, medical societies, industry organizations and patient groups, we can better support, and give Filipinas, hope for a cervical-cancer free future.