The ongoing pandemic has hindered a lot of development services like family planning programs from moving forward, and their absence can lead to alarming results. The healthcare facilities in charge have been either closed or, especially when most public transportation services stopped operating, out of reach for many who need their attention.
The dire effect has been put into numbers by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and reported by the Commission on Population Development (POPCOM). UPPI and UNFPA are projecting an additional 214,000 live births from unplanned pregnancies by the end of the year.
That’s a lot of babies going to be named Corona—or some variation on the COVID theme. (We suggest Vico if it’s a boy; Angel if it’s a girl.)
But seriously, in 2018 alone, there were 1.668 million births reported, and the additional number of children will push that number to almost 2 million by 2021.
Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III, executive director of POPCOM, tells ANCX that when the President announced the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last March, his team already saw some early effects on family planning, specially because a number of health centers were not fully staffed.
On that evidence alone, the group had communicated their concerns with the LGUs, who agreed to deliver the different methods of contraception—e.g. pills and condoms—to the homes of those who signed up for the family planning programs. At the time, they projected an estimate 100,000 additional live births in Luzon alone. When the ECQ was enacted in Visayas and Mindanao, they knew the number could double.
Today, POPCOM estimates that one in every three women who have stopped practicing family planning will give birth by 2021.
Although the Department of Health (DOH) came up with a memorandum identifying health services as an essential, which include family planning and reproductive health, the checkpoints and the strict ECQ measures made it difficult for the contraception to reach the LGUs.
“Our regional offices had to overcome these barriers, and they had to negotiate,” Dr. Perez said. “But we were able to bring them to the families concerned.”
Apart from the accessibility of the health care centers, the availability of the healthcare workers posed a problem as well. Many have been assigned to handle COVID-19 cases. Even when when the more lax general community quarantine (GCQ) ruling eases up, Dr. Perez is wary of the availability of the frontliners.
“It has been reported that only 2/3 of health workers were able to report to work, because some of them couldn’t travel, or they got sick, or were pulled out, like what’s happening in the Visayas,” he said. “Even when the quarantine eases up, we’re not sure what will happen to the healthcare workers. I hope they become available.”
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POPCOM and their teams claim to have strengthened their health lines so people can call and schedule a visit to the health centers, or ask pertinent questions.
For those who haven’t signed up yet to their programs, Dr. Perez’s team continues to raise awareness on the importance of family planning. “We continue to support our barangay population volunteers, who go house to house. We provide PPEs [personal protective equipment], and more importantly make sure that the supply chain is intact. From our warehouse, we deliver to local government units, municipalities, and cities. The city will deliver to the households, or maintain services at the health center.”
In the Philippines, most of those who are affected by the inaccessibility of health centers come from 40% of the population, which belong to the poor.
“They are the ones who have more children and no access to services,” Dr. Perez said. “They are also the ones who are practicing traditional methods of family planning. It makes us worry that increasing number of unplanned pregnancies will be leading to higher poverty incidence.”