As shield vs infectious diseases.
IN the Visayas region, Bohol joins other provincial and local governments across the Philippines in enforcing the basic health care right of every child to vaccination as it kicked off the Department of Health’s (DoH) “Back to BakUNA, Una sa Lahat Bakuna” School-Based Immunization (SBI) Program at the Carmen Cultural Center, Municipality of Carmen, Bohol.
Driven by the Bohol Provincial Health Office, with the DoH and Department of Education (DepEd), the program seeks to strengthen vaccine confidence in the Visayas region to protect more children and adolescents from measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, and human papillomavirus (HPV)-related diseases such as cervical cancer when they reach adulthood.
Through the SBI Program, the DoH, with the DepEd and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), are intensifying multi-stakeholder collaborative efforts to make vaccines more accessible to a catch population of children and adolescents. The kickoff in Bohol is one of the events in the Visayas region that signifies the continuing alliance with the DoH to strengthen the “Kalasag ng Kalusugan” or health shield of the community against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Municipality of Carmen Mayor Ricardo Francisco Toribio, in his welcome message, said that the Municipality of Carmen is 100% supportive of this program. “We all know there are apprehensions against vaccination because of previous reports. But all of us stakeholders must join hands in promoting the importance of vaccination which has been proven effective in preventing fatal vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Representatives from DILG Bohol and the office of the Governor of the Province of Bohol also expressed their full support to the SBI Program.
Over 500 participants composed of students, parents, and school heads supported the event that endeavored to deepen understanding on the value of immunization in disease prevention.
For women’s health, HPV vaccination was highlighted through lectures on the burden of HPV infection, how it is acquired, the need to eliminate the stigma surrounding HPV, and the need to protect young women from cervical cancer later in life.
Starting young in the fight against HPV
Increasing access to HPV vaccination is promoted by the Bohol Provincial Health Office in the Visayas region to support the DoH Roadmap towards an HPV-free Philippines and cervical cancer elimination by 2040.
Grade 4 girls who are attending public schools are the target recipients of HPV vaccination under the DoH’s SBI Program. Based on the DoH recommendation, they are given two doses, six months apart. Girls as young as nine years old are given HPV vaccine so that they will have early protection prior to exposure to the virus.
A common sexually-transmitted infection, HPV is primarily acquired through skin-to-skin genital contact or sexual activity. Most HPV infections clear up on their own, but there is still the risk that the infection may become chronic and pre-cancerous lesions may later develop into cervical cancer.
Prior to vaccination, parents’ consents are first obtained after a series of educational forums that communicate facts on HPV and its link with cervical cancer and other diseases. These educational forums encourage parents to look beyond HPV as an STI, or as a stigma of sexual activity. Instead, they are enlightened to focus on preventing the possible burden that their children may face without protection against cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers.
Daisy Lynn T. Canuto, 31, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president of the Carmen West Central Elementary School, agreed with the importance of proper information dissemination among stakeholders before implementing programs such as immunization in schools.
“Our parents really request for orientation sessions from the medical officers so that everyone will understand the importance of vaccination. We know people read posts from social media but with information coming from the proper professionals, they are better enlightened. And in our previous experience, the parents would even come to school and be with their children during the activity so that they are involved and understand the process better,” she said
Next to breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Filipino women. According to the DOH, over 7,000 new cases of cervical cancer are recorded every year in the country. From this statistic, close to 4,000 Filipino women’s lives are lost.
Mila S. Espejo, 45, whose nine-year-old and 4th grader daughter received HPV vaccination during the event, said that vaccination is important for her daughter, so that she will be protected from cervical cancer. “I am also suggesting this to my fellow parents, because we really can’t tell. It’s best to be protected from HPV and cervical cancer altogether.”
Aside from cervical cancer, other HPV-related diseases include genital warts as well as vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and head and neck cancers.
Vaccines help protect life
According to UNICEF, vaccines can save two to three million lives each year. Vaccines are known to be among the greatest medical interventions in history and are second to clean water in their capacity to reduce infectious diseases. Through vaccination, diseases such as smallpox have been eliminated. Vaccines go through multiple rounds of quality assurance tests to make sure that the vaccine a patient receives is safe and effective.
Herbert M. Briones, 33, was with his six-year-old daughter, a Grade 1 student at Carmen East Elementary School, when she was injected with the measles-rubella vaccine during the kickoff event. He said, “I believe in vaccination, that it is important to the health of my child. Since she was a baby, she’s had the complete immunization procedures, that’s why I came here with my daughter and agreed to have her vaccinated today.”
Strengthening vaccine confidence is critical to having a resilient and sustainable immunization system. Through the SBI Program, key stakeholders composed of government, medical societies, teachers, parents, and the rest of the community rally in fighting vaccine-preventable diseases and help broaden the coverage of immunization which is a basic right of every child.
DepEd Bohol Medical Officer III Dr. Maria Aurora D. Luma-ad, who represented the DepEd Bohol Division Office, emphasized the need for communal cooperation. “It takes a community to raise a child. We need to all come together as a community in encouraging a culture of health, and that includes immunization.”
Dr. Josephine B. Jabonillo, Carmen Municipal Health Officer, supports this. She said, “We ask teachers to help educate parents on the importance of immunization. All parents, as well, are enjoined to become immunization advocates.”
During the event in Bohol, parents are also encouraged to consult health care professionals on the appropriate schedule for their children’s immunization.
Bohol’s initiative to implement HPV vaccination in its schools through the DoH’s SBI Program is an important step in building a more resilient system that can fortify the community’s protection against vaccine-preventable diseases. This is in line with the DoH’s thrust to promote the importance of the Kalasag ng Kalusugan (Health Shield) by providing health care services for all communities and making vaccines readily available.
Visayas is continuously working towards the goal of eliminating unnecessary suffering and death from cervical cancer and other vaccine-preventable diseases as the DoH’s SBI Program is set to kickoff in other provinces in the region.