MSD in the Philippines is raising awareness on the most common sexually transmitted virus, the human papillomavirus or HPV, as part of its core advocacy, Guard Against HPV.
“The discussion about HPV is often tied to cervical cancer. We have to remember that HPV infections are sexually transmitted,” said Dr. Mary Ann Escalona, Country Medical Lead of MSD in the Philippines. “By putting HPV back to the conversation on overall health, we can make better decisions that can help protect us and our loved ones from HPV-related diseases.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85% of people get infected by HPV at one point in their lives. Infections may go unnoticed because symptoms may appear only after many years. But even without symptoms, those that carry HPV can still spread it to others.
A common burden
HPV is a virus that may lead to different diseases including genital warts and cancer. A 2019 study published in the online journal Infectious Disease and Cancer says that genital warts have an overall prevalence of almost 3% for Filipino men and women, with a higher prevalence among men.
HPV-related cancers, such as cervical cancer, have also made their way into the population. According to a 2019 study by the HPV Information Centre, about 7,190 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually in the Philippines. The disease has also taken almost 4,088 lives every year according to the same study.
Better than cure
Guard Against HPV advocates taking action as a crucial step in combating HPV in the community.
“We all have a role to play in the fight against HPV,” Dr. Escalona said. “As parents, we need to guide our children properly so they know how to be responsible for their health. As spouses and partners, we need to keep ourselves armed with the right information on how we can keep ourselves at the peak of our health, how to avoid infections, and how to prevent spreading diseases. This way, we give each other a chance to thrive without worrying about disease.”
Experts recommend the proper use of condoms to reduce intimate skin-to-skin contact which may lead to HPV exposure. However, HPV can infect other areas not covered by a condom, and so condoms do not fully protect against HPV infections. Committing to a mutually monogamous relationship also helps lower the risk for HPV.
The Department of Health recommends that women must also undergo a pap smear three years after their first vaginal intercourse, then followed by a pap smear test every year for the next three years. If results are negative, the test can be done every two to three years.
HPV vaccination is also available to help provide protection against infections, especially for children starting at nine years old before they become exposed to the virus in later life. Parents can consult their pediatrician to learn more about HPV vaccination for their children.
To reach a wider audience, Guard Against HPV is introducing a hand gesture to help raise awareness about HPV. The movement is simple and lets people trace the shape of an awareness ribbon in the air.
“Wearing a ribbon has been traditionally used to show support for a cause. However, with the current situation, we have been limited to the use of digital channels to get in touch with our friends and family—but this won’t mean we can’t continue with our advocacy,” Dr. Escalona explains. “The aim of the ribbon gesture is to reach a wide audience, including the youth so they can know about HPV and understand how they can guard themselves and their loved ones against the disease.”