During a recent House Committee on Appropriations hearing to discuss the proposed Department of Health (DOH) budget for 2024, Hon. Angelica Natasha Co of the BHW Partylist and Vice Chairperson of the House Committee on Health expressed that there is a need to double-time on increasing HPV immunization coverage in the country to protect girls and women from cervical cancer.
“Tila po kasi napakalayo pa natin sa WHO goal kung saan ang Pilipinas ay nag commit na 90 percent ng mga 9-15 year oldang mababakunahan nito [HPV vaccine]. I hope we can look into it – na mas mapabilis pa ang pagbabakuna natin ng atingmga kabataan. Alam naman natin, pag nabakunahan, it will save lives. Mas importante ang prevention kesa sa curative.
Cervical cancer is a dreaded disease that claims the lives of 11 Filipinas daily. Furthermore, the cost of treatment has been financially catastrophic for many Filipino families affected by cervical cancer. According to a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), cancer patients still pay 15-41% out-of-pocket medical costs despite government subsidies.
Recent data shows that the Philippine government spent a staggering P46.63 billion on cancer treatment in 2020 alone. Yet ironically, 99% of cervical cancer cases are preventable through early HPV vaccination of girls as early as 9 years old.
In the same hearing, DOH Undersecretary Public Services TeamDr. Maria Rosario Vergeire, mentioned that the Department’s goal is to vaccinate 1 million grade 4 public school girls every year. She also underscored the DOH’s appeal to Congress for a higher allocation for HPV vaccines.
“With our current budget, we can cover 15 of our regions. Region 4B [and] Region 2 [are] not included in the allocations of HPV [vaccines]. Kasama po iyon sa appeals na naisumitenamin sa House of Representatives if ever ma approve po, we can already cover nationwide for HPV vaccination of our grade 4 students.”
The DOH is working to increase the coverage of HPV vaccination in the country. For the calendar year 2023, the Department has acquired 1 million doses of HPV vaccine, which will cover an estimated 500,000 girls aged 9 to 14, or approximately 38% of the nationwide school-aged children target. In the ongoing budget deliberations, the DOH is appealing to Congress for an increased budget for the HPV immunization Program.
Under the National Expenditure Program, there is a reduced budget allocations for the 2024 HPV immunization program, which has been slashed from 1 million doses in 2023 to 750,000 doses in the incoming year, estimated to only reach around 375,000 school children next year.
While thousands of parents rely on government school-based HPV vaccine programs to have their children protected from cervical cancer, a decrease in government spending for the HPV immunization program would mean lesser vaccine coverage and could potentially put thousands of young girls at risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.
This is why Hon. Co, who is a staunch supporter of grassroots healthcare, agreed that prevention through HPV vaccination is a more financially sound and life-saving solution than the lengthy government-subsidized cervical cancer treatments.
The House of Representatives began its review of the 2024 national budget in August. The House aims to approve the proposed national budget on or before Sept. 30.