As testament to its strong priority to ensure an effective health care system for Filipinos, the Department of Health (DOH) identified Valenzuela City as one of the two cities in Metro Manila to be part of the 33 Universal Health Care-Advanced Implementation Sites (UHC-AIS).
Valenzuela, along with the other DOH-identified UHC-AIS, will be supported by both the DOH and PhilHealth to demonstrate various approaches and mechanisms to achieve technical, managerial, and financial integration, as mandated by the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law that guarantees equitable access to quality and affordable health care for all Filipinos. The UHC Law will also put premium on efforts relating to disease prevention and early protection, one of which is immunization.
As a means to achieve an efficient disease prevention effort, Valenzuela kicked off the DOH’s “Back to BakUNA, Una sa Lahat Bakuna” School-Based Immunization (SBI) Program with a focus on human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.
Dr. Jaime Exconde, Jr., Valenzuela City Health Office head, emphasized the value of vaccination in disease prevention, such as those linked with HPV namely cervical cancer, genital warts, and other HPV-related cancers that can affect both females and males.
“It is the responsibility of the Valenzuela City government health office to take care of the health of its constituents and ensure that you are protected from diseases. As for the parents, it is your responsibility to ensure that the health benefits provided by the city health office and the DOH are received by your children,” said Dr. Exconde.
Under the DOH’s SBI Program, HPV vaccines are administered for free to eligible grade 4 girls who are attending public schools. Eligible vaccinees receive two doses of immunization, given six months apart, so that they are protected early before possible exposure to the virus.
Dr. Ma. Nieves Elizabeth Cruz, National Immunization Program (NIP) coordinator, underscored that vaccination is equal to giving children protection or a health shield. She also explained that the government is prioritizing immunization for infants, children, and adolescents for early protection and disease prevention.
In addition to this, the campaign aims to empower mothers to protect their daughters from the burden of HPV and its related cancers. Although vaccine-preventable, the prevalence of cervical cancer remains alarming throughout the country. Over 7,000 new cases and close to 4,000 deaths result from the disease every year.
Through educational forums, the SBI Program calls on parents, teachers, students, and everyone in the community to also look beyond the concern of HPV as an STI, or as a stigma of sexual activity, and instead join in the fight to protect every Filipino woman from the burden of cervical cancer.
“HPV vaccine is not new,” said Dr. Erwin De Mesa, president of the Philippine Infectious Diseases Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology (PIDSOG). “It has been available since 2006 and widely used by countries in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. HPV vaccine also recorded an effectivity rate of 98% against cervical cancer and 99% against genital warts.”