Philippines takes cancer screening into the workplace

Office worker Gemma Remojo attends a free HPV test in her workplace in Taguig City, Philippines on Jan. 26. (Mariejo Ramos/Thomson Reuters Foundation)
Short Url
Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Philippines takes cancer screening into the workplace

  • Detection rates are low, diagnosis is slow
  • State asks private sector to improve workers’ health

MANILA: Saddled with high cancer rates and late diagnoses, the Philippines is trying a whole new tack: asking businesses to step into state shoes and screen millions of workers for early signs of the disease.

Be it cervical, breast or colon cancer, the Southeast Asian nation wants to lower its cancer deaths by increasing screening.
Medics say early detection is key to improving survival rates, so last year the government changed course and opted to partner with the private sector to boost testing levels.
In September, the government ordered all employers to set up cancer prevention and control programs to ease pressures on time- and cash-poor staff, who must otherwise contribute to the cost of diagnosis and treatment themselves.
Employers are now required to give employees access to cancer screening, by referrals to reputable health facilities or conducting free screenings themselves.
The order stemmed from the landmark National Integrated Cancer Control Act, which pledged better screening, diagnosis and treatment and to make health services “more equitable and affordable for all, especially for the underprivileged, poor and marginalized.”
Cervical screening
Since the start of the year, 500 Filipinos have tested under the new setup — officer worker Gemma Remojo was among the first.
“I’ve been suffering from reproductive issues and hormonal imbalance so I really needed this test,” said Remojo, a 35-year-old employed by finance company Home Credit.
Under the Philippine health system, Remojo would have to pay for tests in a private clinic or ask the national health insurance to cover her screening, which takes time to process.
Home Credit’s cervical screening service began in January, with kits distributed to workers for free after a short lecture.
The workers collect their own specimens in a designated space inside the workplace and their results are posted out by medical providers some weeks later. Employers cannot access the results, circumventing any data privacy concerns.
A positive test detects the presence of HPV, the virus linked to cervical cancer — the fourth most common cancer among women globally.
Roughly 91 percent of cervical cancer cases are thought to be caused by HPV, and every year more than half of cervical cancer cases in the Philippines lead to death.
The kit was provided for free by the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics (Jhpiego), a nonprofit health organization helping hundreds of workers get free HPV screenings in the Philippines.
According to Jhpiego, the cancer awareness lecture and do-it-yourself kits help simplify the screening process for women.
The government said the aim was to screen more citizens and do it more quickly — then to speed up diagnoses.
“With cancer ranking third among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the country, the advisory serves as our proactive contribution to combating the disease,” Alvin Curada, director of the government’s Bureau of Working Conditions, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Engaging the private sector underscores the country’s commitment ... It signifies a shared responsibility between the government and the private sector,” he said.
Bridging health gaps
A key incentive for users to get tested is the lower cost, along with a better health outlook.
The cost of treatment is high; Filipino cancer patients lose a combined 35 billion Philippine pesos ($625 million) a year in medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages, according to a study by health economist Valerie Ulep of state think-tank the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.
Ulep said early screening could save lives, as only 1 percent of Filipino women are ever screened for breast or cervical cancer, among the lowest rates in the world.
The poor take-up comes despite that fact that breast and cervical are among the leading cancers affecting Filipino women.
The cost of screening is also prohibitive, said Jhpiego’s Marco Ugoy, who works to raise awareness on reproductive health.
The price in hospitals can range from 3,000 to 30,000 Philippine pesos, when a minimum-wage earner in the Philippines earns an average 17,000 pesos each month.
All employers must enroll staff in the Philippines’ national health insurance company, PhilHealth, but that universal policy only partly covers a patient’s costs.
The new scheme aims to bridge some of the gap.
Hard to roll out
The government’s Curada said work was an ideal place to run a cancer program because of its structure and facilities.
To ensure company compliance, employers must submit an annual report to government detailing the extent of cancer-related activities or else risk an unspecified fine.
But health advocates worry that guidelines may be too scant and that policy awareness remains low.
“It’s a big step that a directive like this was signed. But do all companies implement it? Do the workers know about the policy?” said Ugoy of Jhpiego.
Ugoy said some business owners were already big advocates of workplace screenings, but he cited challenges in getting factories, especially those in autonomous ecozones, to comply.
The Philippines has more than 400 special economic zones that run with little or no government interference, and have historically been linked to a range of human rights concerns.
Nadia De Leon of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development, a nonprofit for worker health and safety, said the new government tack represents a big step forward.
But the guidelines “may remain largely symbolic” if not strictly enforced and monitored, she said.

Screenings for women
Home Credit’s Arianne Eucogo said the company prioritized HPV screenings over other cancer programs since about 65 percent of their employees are women.
“We’re primarily doing it for health promotion of our employees, knowing that the rate of cervical cancer deaths in the Philippines is high,” she said.
Ugoy said one of the biggest barriers to health checkups was simply time, as health centers only open during office hours.
Ugoy said the private sector must also partner with community-based groups and local government to boost take-up and get around the time constraints.
For example, in Taguig City, the fifth most populous in the country, dozens of companies partnered with the city’s own team to run their HPV screenings and cancer treatment, be it through office clinics, ride-hailing services or call centers.
Ugoy said this approach — with free test kits from Jhpiego and labs paid by the city government — had sped up diagnosis.
“It shouldn’t stop at diagnostics. Screening and treatment must go hand in hand when it comes to cancer,” said Marites Diaz, who has worked for 32 years at the Taguig Health Office.


Netanyahu will soon address joint session of US Congress, Johnson says

Updated 5 sec ago
Follow

Netanyahu will soon address joint session of US Congress, Johnson says

WASHINGTON: Republican US House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon address a joint session of Congress amid heightened tensions with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, over the Israeli leader’s handling of the war in Gaza.

(Developing story)

 


HPV vaccines prevent cancer in men as well as women, new research suggests

Updated 32 min 57 sec ago
Follow

HPV vaccines prevent cancer in men as well as women, new research suggests

  • For the study, researchers compared 3.4 million people of similar ages — half vaccinated versus half unvaccinated — in a large health care dataset
  • Research suggests vaccinated men have fewer cancers of the mouth and throat — twice as common in men than in women — compared to those who didn’t get the shots

New research suggests the HPV vaccine is preventing cancer in men, as well as in women, but fewer boys than girls are getting the shots in the United States.

The HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical cancer in women and experts give it credit, along with screening, for lowering cervical cancer rates. Evidence that the shots are preventing HPV-related cancers in men has been slower to emerge, but the new research suggests vaccinated men have fewer cancers of the mouth and throat compared to those who didn’t get the shots. These cancers are more than twice as common in men than in women.
For the study, researchers compared 3.4 million people of similar ages — half vaccinated versus half unvaccinated — in a large health care dataset.As expected, vaccinated women had a lower risk of developing cervical cancer within at least five years of getting the shots. For men, there were benefits too. Vaccinated men had a lower risk of developing any HPV-related cancer, such as cancers of the anus, penis and mouth and throat.
These cancers take years to develop so the numbers were low: There were 57 HPV-related cancers among the unvaccinated men — mostly head and neck cancers — compared to 26 among the men who had the HPV vaccine.
“We think the maximum benefit from the vaccine will actually happen in the next two or three decades,” said study co-author Dr. Joseph Curry, a head and neck surgeon at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “What we’re showing here is an early wave of effect.”
Results of the study and a second were released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and will be discussed next month at its annual meeting in Chicago. The second study shows vaccination rates rising but males lag behind females in getting the HPV shots.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is very common and is spread through sex. Most HPV infections cause no symptoms and clear up without treatment. Others develop into cancer, about 37,000 cases a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the US, the HPV vaccine has been recommended since 2006 for girls at age 11 or 12, and since 2011 for boys the same age. Catch-up shots are recommended for anyone through age 26 who hasn’t been vaccinated.
In the second study, researchers looked at self- and parent-reported HPV vaccination rates in preteens and young adults in a large government survey. From 2011 to 2020, vaccination rates rose from 38 percent to 49 percent among females, and among males from 8 percent to 36 percent.
“HPV vaccine uptake among young males increased by more than fourfold over the last decade, though vaccination rates among young males still fall behind females,” said study co-author Dr. Danh Nguyen at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Parents of boys, as well as girls, should know that HPV vaccines lower cancer risk, said Jasmin Tiro of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center who was not involved in the research. And young men who haven’t been vaccinated can still get the shots.
“It’s really important that teenagers get exposed to the vaccine before they’re exposed to the virus,” she said.


German police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Berlin university

Updated 50 min 19 sec ago
Follow

German police clear pro-Palestinian protesters from Berlin university

  • Activists had occupied several rooms of the Humboldt University’s Institute for Social Sciences in downtown Berlin on Wednesday

BERLIN: German police cleared about 150 pro-Palestinian demonstrators from a Berlin university faculty on Thursday, ending one of a wave of student-led protests across Europe over Israel’s conduct in its war against Hamas.
Activists had occupied several rooms of the Humboldt University’s Institute for Social Sciences in downtown Berlin on Wednesday.
Student Coalition Berlin, the group which organized the protest, called in a statement posted on social media for the university to “take an active role in ending the genocide against the people of Palestine and their decades-long suffering.”
University administrators agreed after talks with protest leaders to let them stay until Thursday evening. But they called in the police when some of them refused to leave, German news agency dpa reported.
Police spokeswoman Beate Ostertag said that, while some of the demonstrators left voluntarily, police officers had to lead others from the building. Police said about 130 people were briefly detained during the operation, in which officers broke through several barricaded doors.
Student protests over the war in Gaza that began in the United States have spread to university campuses in many European countries. In Germany, protests have taken place this week at universities in cities including Munich and Leipzig.
Berlin authorities have taken a tough line against anti-Israeli demonstrations, urging police to step in if demonstrators use slogans that could incite hatred against Jews – taboo in a country marked by the memory of the Holocaust.
“There is no place for hate and anti-Semitism in Berlin and at our universities,” said Burkard Dregger, a lawmaker for the Christian Democratic Union, which leads the Berlin state government.


Promising pipelines and fracking, Trump rakes in millions at Texas fundraisers

Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Promising pipelines and fracking, Trump rakes in millions at Texas fundraisers

  • While the oil and gas industry has boomed under Biden despite increased regulation, they are pushing back against Biden’s ban on fracking on federal land a recent halt in approving new gas export facilities

HOUSTON: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raised tens of millions of dollars during a fundraising swing through Texas this week, promising he would support the oil and gas industry by backing new pipelines and restoring fracking on federal land.

Trump has courted support from the energy industry with a pro-fossil fuel and anti-regulation agenda and regularly criticizes President Joe Biden’s policies to accelerate the energy transition toward a low-carbon economy.
The oil and gas industry has boomed under Biden despite increased regulation and the more climate-focused administration, making record profits and pumping more oil and gas than ever before. The industry has pushed back against Biden’s ban on fracking on federal land a recent halt in approving new gas export facilities.
A Houston fundraiser on Wednesday was hosted by oil billionaires Jeff Hildebrand, founder of Hilcorp Energy, the largest closely held US oil firm; George Bishop, founder of GeoSouthern Energy; Harold Hamm, founder of Continental Resources; and Kelcy Warren, head of pipeline firm Energy Transfer Partners.
Trump drew standing ovations when he promised to get more natural gas pipelines built if elected and to restore fracking to areas barred under Biden, said Mark Carr, a Houston entrepreneur who was in attendance. Many oil and gas pipelines were delayed or abandoned under both Trump and Biden’s administrations due to community opposition, legal challenges and lengthy permitting processes.
“He’s going to get energy going again in the United States,” said Carr, who founded the Houston-area Christian Brothers Automotive chain.
Trump said America needs to quit taking Venezuelan “tar” oil and instead use American oil, said another attendee, who declined to be named. The United States has resumed limited imports of Venezuelan crude under Biden for processing at US refineries.
Trump has emphasized tax cuts for the industry, “streamlining” the permitting process, and removing certain regulations, said donor and oil executive Dan Eberhart, who was in Houston for the event. “We can drill our way to energy security and low gas prices,” said Eberhart.
The Houston fundraiser was held by the Trump 47 Committee, a fundraising tie-up between the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, a fundraising group that has spent tens of millions of dollars on Trump’s legal fees, and a raft of Republican state parties. The Houston luncheon and a smaller, more intimate roundtable with a group of about 45 executives was followed by a fundraising event in Dallas on Wednesday night.
A Trump campaign official said the Texas swing brought in at least $15 million. Two sources told Reuters the various Texas events took in a total of around $40 million. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm that number.
After a raft of high-dollar donor events across the country, Trump overtook Biden in fundraising last month for the first time.
Meanwhile, the US Senate finance and budget committees on Thursday launched an investigation into Trump’s reported offer to roll back a slew of environmental regulations in exchange for $1 billion in campaign contributions.
The investigation came a week after the top Democratic lawmaker on a US House oversight panel sought information from nine oil companies about reports about “quid pro quo propositions” made by the former president at a campaign event this spring at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The Texas events were pricy affairs: Host committee members were asked to pay $250,000 per couple and agree to raise another $500,000, according to the invitations. The chair was asked to donate about $845,000 per couple and raise another $1.69 million.
An after-luncheon roundtable drew Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicki Hollub and Houston entertainment and sports magnate Tillman Fertitta, who owns the hotel where the event was held. They were offered a question-and-answer period with the candidate.
Also in attendance in Houston was North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a former Trump rival for the Republican nomination and now a possible running mate, according to another attendee.
Teofilo Lingi, chief operating officer of EK-Petrol, said the former president was “good for the oil industry” and relations with Angola, where his trading and oil exploration company was founded.
Stricter environmental regulations since Trump’s term in office have “made it more difficult for us to import from Angola,” Lingi said, citing customs duties.


Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’

Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Georgian PM says EU official made ‘horrific threat’

  • Oliver Varhelyi, EU commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement, says he regrets making the warning
  • The EU official says his remarks on the Slovak assassination attempt was 'taken out of context

TBILISI/BRUSSELS: Georgia’s prime minister on Thursday said an EU commissioner had hinted he could face an assassination bid over a controversial law but the official said the conversation had been distorted.
Georgian premier Irakli Kobakhidze said the unnamed commissioner told him to be “very careful,” citing this month’s assassination attempt on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, while discussing the legislation likened by critics to Russian-style laws.
The bill requires NGOs and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as bodies “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

President Salome Zourabichvili has vetoed the bill, but the ruling Georgian Dream party has the numbers in parliament to override her veto in a vote next week, despite mass protests and sweeping global condemnation.
Critics say the measure mirrors Russian legislation used to stifle dissent, while Brussels warns it is “incompatible” with Tbilisi’s longstanding bid for European Union membership.
Kobakhidze said that “amid open blackmail” by high-ranking foreign politicians, an EU commissioner had called him to outline “measures, which Western politicians could take if the presidential veto is overridden.”
In what Kobakhidze called a “horrific threat,” he quoted the commissioner as saying: “You’ve seen what happened to (Robert) Fico and you must be very careful.”

Fico, a Euroskeptic populist, was shot four times at point-blank range on May 15. Slovak police arrested a 71-year-old suspect who said he had wanted to hurt Fico because he disagreed with government policies.

“As a precautionary measure, I decided to inform Georgian society of that threat,” Kobakhidze added in a statement.
EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said later: “I would like to express my very sincere regret that a certain part of my phone conversation was taken out of context.”
Georgia’s ruling party has faced widespread accusations of derailing the country from its EU membership path and leading the ex-Soviet republic back toward the Russian orbit.
But the party insists it is committed to EU and NATO membership — which are enshrined in the country’s constitution and supported by more than 80 percent of the population.
It has repeatedly accused Western countries of attempts to drag Tbilisi into Russia’s war on Ukraine.