As the importance of vaccination takes center stage, MSD in the Philippines is doubling down against vaccine-preventable diseases through its Guard Against HPV campaign. The focus is on human papillomavirus or HPV—a very common virus that affects up to 85 percent of sexually active men and women at one point in their lives, that may cause genital warts and severe HPV-related diseases such as genital and anal cancers. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from these HPV-related diseases.
“HPV infection can easily go unnoticed. Infections that cause genital warts or, worse, cancer, may stay hidden for several years before symptoms start to appear. By that time, it may already be too late,” said Dr. Mary Ann Galang-Escalona, Country Medical Lead of MSD in the Philippines. “That’s why for HPV-related diseases, prevention is far better than cure. Families, as well as people seeking relationships, must take every opportunity to keep safe from HPV to avoid its more serious health implications.”
The Department of Health (DOH) says that HPV vaccines should be part of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to address cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases among Filipinos. The DOH notes that HPV accounts for a majority of cervical cancer cases, and many young adults also suffer from genital warts.
In a 2019 report by the HPV Information Centre, cervical cancer ranks second among the leading types of female cancers in the Philippines and third among the most common cancer deaths affecting Filipino women.
Alongside vaccination, sexually active women must still undergo regular pap smears to check for precancerous lesions caused by HPV, according to the DOH. These lesions may progress to cancer if not detected and treated early.
Based on DOH guidelines as per the recommendation of the World Health Organization, HPV vaccination can protect children ages 9 to 13 before being exposed to the virus through sexual activity.
To ensure that adolescents receive protection against HPV and HPV-related diseases in later life, the DOH has included HPV vaccination in its school-based immunization program. Through the program, Grade 4 female learners in public schools may get the vaccine as long as they have parental consent.
“Taking steps to protect yourself isn’t only about personal safety. It’s also about protecting others, the people we care about,” Galang-Escalona said. “Vaccination reduces the number of circulating viruses in the community. This benefits everyone—especially those who are vulnerable—by lowering the risk for infections and developing serious illnesses that could have otherwise been prevented. By staying safe, we keep each other safe.”