Banna, Ilocos Norte is the first community in the Philippines to reach WHO 90% immunization targets

Around 1,000 female students in Banna, a municipality in Ilocos Norte, received their first dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine on May 10, 2024, making Banna the first municipality in the Philippines to achieve the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) goal of vaccinating 90% of the female schoolchildren ages 9-14.

HPV is the most pervasive sexually transmitted infection. Often, it is harmless and resolves by itself. However, some cases can result in general warts or cancer. Having the HPV vaccine protects against genital warts and most cases of cancer such as cervical cancer and cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, or anus.

In the Philippines alone, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer and the fourth leading cause of death from cancer in females. The latest record shows there are about 37.8 million Filipino women at risk, with 8,549 women receiving diagnosis, leading to over 4,000 fatalities or 12 Filipinas dying every day from the disease.

Apart from early detection, healthcare professionals are pushing for preventing the diseases altogether through immunization. The local government of Banna, provincial representatives from the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Education (DepEd), along with healthcare company MSD in the Philippines, promoted access and administration of the vaccine to Grade 4 female students.

Banna, Ilocos Norte Mayor, Dr. Mary Chrislyn Abadilla

To safeguard the young girls of Banna from this virus, Mayor Mary Chrislyn Abadilla, who is also a medical doctor by profession, urged her constituents to support the immunization program being spearheaded by the WHO, with the help of the DOH and DepEd in ensuring that the girls in town are safe and protected against cervical cancer.

“For this year, we have already covered (immunized) all girls aged 9-14 and we plan that those who will turn 9 years old next year will get vaccinated. We will just wait for them,” said Abadilla as she initiated a community-based approach to strengthen the national government’s projects. A cervical cancer awareness program was held to raise awareness of the immunization project and its benefits to both young females and their families.

“I was surprised that we were the first to achieve this throughout the country. If we want to achieve something on a national level, we must work hand in hand and do something about it,” Abadilla shared. She directed all the barangay captains to gather all pertinent data for the community-wide immunization and also sought help from DepEd to advocate cervical cancer awareness and prevention.

“All we just need to do is to inform and at the same time, look for those who share with our advocacies and make it happen,” she added. With May as the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Paula Paz Sydiongco, Regional Director of the DOH – Center for Health and Development in Region I, lauded the efforts of the local government unit of Banna for the successful implementation of the HPV immunization program.

“Political commitment and political will are the driving force behind any successful health initiative. Congratulations to Mayor Chrislyn for demonstrating unwavering support for women’s health to inspire change and create a lasting impact on nationwide health for our people. Together, we can make history and ensure a brighter future for generations to come,” she said in her speech during the mass HPV vaccination and the start of cervical cancer screening held at the municipal hall of Banna.

Dr. Maria Rosario S. Vergeire, Undersecretary of Health

Dr. Maria Rosario S. Vergeire, Undersecretary of Health, emphasized how knowledge is crucial to combating cervical cancer. “We also need to increase Filipinos’ knowledge of prevention, screening, treatment, and knowledge of healthy behaviors. We need to ensure that cancer screening and early detection interventions are available and accessible in primary care facilities and our hospitals. Gaya ng layunin ng universal healthcare, patuloy nating ipapatupad ang settings-based approach upang masiguro natin ang ating mga komunidad ay supportive of practicing healthy behaviors,” she said.

Dr. Modesty Leaño, Officer-in-Charge Medical Center Chief of the MMMH&MC, underscored the importance of early detection by highlighting that cervical cancer is highly treatable when caught in its early stages.

DOH hopes to increase access to early detection services, combat the growing burden of cervical cancer, and empower more women to take charge of their health by availing of free cervical screening and receiving the vaccine from participating health centers. In support of HPV immunization towards eliminating cervical cancer, the state-run Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH&MC) in Batac City will also conduct free screening on May 17, 2024. The Batac Hospital is also one of DOH’s 31 cancer treatment sites designated to conduct free screening and consultations to promote early cancer detection and improve treatment outcomes.

For his part, Schools Division Superintendent Atty. Donato Balderas assured his all-out support to the nationwide immunization program.

“Based on what we have witnessed today, we were inspired to make Banna as our model and help in the advocacy campaign so that other local government units will follow suit,” said Balderas. He also mentioned how teachers and nurses in the division of Ilocos Norte can help advocate and shed light on the importance of the immunization program to fight any virus by encouraging the local government’s programs against cervical cancer.

Vice Governor Cecilia Araneta Marcos also expressed her commitment to implementing the immunization program by enacting life-saving measures to reduce the risk of cervical cancer and all other health-related concerns. “(The) HPV vaccine is important to reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer. Let us unite to prevent life-threatening diseases through early vaccination,” she said.

When diagnosed, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. Cancers diagnosed in late stages can also be controlled with appropriate treatment and palliative care. With a comprehensive approach to preventing, screening, and treating cervical cancer, the chances of fully eliminating this cancer increase until it poses no problems for the coming generations.