The Puerto Princesa City Government Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative celebrated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month at SM City Puerto Princesa before the weekend, offering free women’s health services, including breast ultrasounds and examinations, visual inspection with acetic acid stain for early cervical cancer detection, pap smears, and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.

The cooperative spearheaded on October 20 the 6th Dibdiban event, a community development program with the theme of “Let’s Bridge the Breast Cancer Care Gap: Fair and Square”, in cooperation with the Pink Ribbon Advocates of Palawan, the City Health Office (CHO), and the Office of Vice Mayor Maria Nancy Socrates.

Socrates, a breast cancer survivor, said that early detection can save lives, as it is “no longer a death sentence.”

“Mas nakakatakot kung huli nang makita. The earlier na ma-detect, the better, kagaya nga ng sa akin napaka agang nakita. Actually, hindi pa siya bukol, nakita na siya—23 years na akong survivor. [Early detection] ang pinaka magandang panlaban natin, lalo na wala namang bakuna ito,” she said.

Next year, Socrates said she plans to hold a two-day breast cancer consultation and awareness campaign so more women in the city can be helped and saved.

CHO Nurse IV Jofey Francisco said that the turnout far exceeded their target numbers. The barangays brought in more women than expected from their slots, and many mallgoers who were women of reproductive age were also interested in availing the health services through walk-in appointments.

Although health services remained accessible throughout the entire day until 5 p.m., some service slots had already reached capacity, as individuals had registered shortly after the opening program at 10 a.m.

“Yung ultrasound natin ang talagang pinaka maraming nag-aavail pero limited lang yung slots. Target na patient is 30 lang sana pero ngayon ay 42. (…) Madali lang gawin yung proseso pero matagal yung interview,” she said.

She also noted that the event had originally been scheduled for earlier this month but was postponed due to packed schedules among stakeholders and staff, as the fourth quarter of the year began. This period included a hypertension and diabetes (HDS) search and rescue mission conducted in Marufinas on the same day.

Francisco observed an increased interest in their health services this year. She said that the most significant uptake came from middle-aged mothers, given their higher level of sexual activity compared to other women of reproductive age.

Additionally, she pointed out that senior citizens took advantage of the visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) screening program, which proved effective in detecting early signs of cervical cancer.

As for the youngest crowd, Francisco said that they had by 3 p.m. around 40 teenagers, some walk-in and some with their mothers, who got their HPVvaccination.

HPV awareness and vaccination is a priority for the CHO that had scheduled a school-based immunization drive for the virus in 2019, a program recently relaunched as classes become 100% face-to-face in Puerto Princesa.

“Last September 20 nagkaroon ng launching ng HPV vaccination sa PNS. Ang target sana natin na mabigyan ng first dose is 3,000 na bata. Nasa 780 lang po yung nabigyan at the time. Pero so far, 1,000 plus na rin lahat ng nabakunahan na bata around the city,” Francisco said.

The HPV vaccine, while available for all age groups, was primarily targeted at children aged nine to 14 during the Dibdiban 2023 program since younger individuals only require the first and second doses for the vaccine’s lifetime effectiveness.

Francisco pointed out that other health programs initiated by the CHO included the ongoing Tarabidan medical missions at the barangay level, in addition to the HDS screening.

She also mentioned that individuals interested in receiving the HPV and COVID vaccines can still receive their first dose at both SM City Puerto Princesa and Robinsons Malls Palawan from Monday to Friday. Vaccination personnel are also available at Irawan Terminal on Saturdays and Sundays. (with a report from R. Luzares)

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