Lack of political will linked to RP's high maternal mortality

by Maria Althea Teves,

Posted at Jul 11 2009 08:13 PM | Updated as of Jul 12 2009 06:10 AM

MANILA - On July 11, 1987, the world population reached 5 billion. Two years later, the United Nations dubbed July as the World Population Day.

Suneeta Mukherjee, country representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Assistance (UNFPA), said that this year’s celebration of the World Population Day gives importance to investing in women.

Women are “critical and significant parts of our lives,” she said in her speech at the “Putting People First and Investing in Women is a Smart Choice: Response to Economic Crisis” forum.

Why Women?

Why should the government invest in women?

Women contribute to economic activities worldwide. Mukherjee cited a UN study done in June 2008 which shows that more than half of the agriculture labor force in the world are women. Also, 80% of staple crop growers in Africa and 90% of growers in Southeast Asia are women.

Joji Ilagan-Bian, chairperson on the Committee on Population and Health in the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that 60% of small-medium enterprises (SMEs) are headed by women. In the country, 97% of businesses are SMEs, Bian said.

Women, Mothers in Danger

It is only fitting that this year’s World Population Day is focused on women because they are "affected most by the economic crisis,” said former Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan.

Department of Social Welfare and Development Assistant Secretary Vilma Cabrera said women suffer most because, “they are the ones who manage the financial resources of the family.”

“It is an ethnolinguistic observation that women eat last in feasts. Men go first, children next and the women seem to go last,” Galvez-Tan said, citing this as an indication of what is happening to women all over the country. He said Filipino women are prioritized last.

Mothers, even pregnant ones, do not attend to their health just to save money for their household expenses.  As a result, the country's maternal mortality picture has been bleak.

The 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey of the National Statistics Office showed that 62,000 babies die each year before reaching their first birthday. Eleven mothers die every day because of neglected pregnancy and complications in childbirth.

“A woman gives life on earth,” said Mukherjee. She said it is a mother’s right to live and take care of her child.

There are 230 Filipinas dying for every 100,000 live births, according to United Nations figures. Causes of maternal deaths are haemorrhage, sepsis, hypertensive disorders in pregnancies, complications of unsafe abortion and obstructed labor.

Based on the national health surveys of the reproductive health programme of UNFPA, the Philippines will not achieve its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) to only 55 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies. In 2015, the deadline of the MDG, the country is expected to have an MMR of 140 deaths per 100,000 births.

The survey also showed that there are 3.6 million pregnancies every year, of which 1.9 million are unplanned. Around 570,000 pregnancies are aborted annually. Mukherjee said poor women suffer most.

Mukherjee said 89% of aborted pregnancy cases could be prevented if the mothers were to use contraceptives.

Reproductive Health Bill

Mukherjee said that the “lack of political will to protect the rights of women” caused these depressing circumstances.

The passage of the reproductive health bill, said Forum for Family Planning and Development President Benjamin de Leon, would be the start of changes in the health and welfare of women, especially mothers, and, in the long run, their families.

If women were to be educated about reproductive health and have time to plan and space their children’s birth, they could focus on her baby’s health and the child’s future, leading to a higher-quality population.

De Leon said that the bill would allow for more information about reproductive health to be disseminated throughout the country.

“There is a need for information,” he said. “We want couples to seek information."

Based on this information, De Leon said Filipino couples would make their own conscientious decisions.

Invest in Women’s Education

Galvez-Tan said that the higher the educational attainment of the woman, the more likely she will be attended by the health professionals during labor.

Highest Educational Attainment Percentage of Women Attended by Health Professionals During Delivery
No Education 10.9
Elementary 32.9
High School 64.8
College 86.7

Source: National Statistics Office, National Demographics and Health Survey, 2008

The more educated the woman is, the more likely that she is informed about reproductive health. “A way to combat MMR is to ensure every girl child is in school.”

Midwives per Barangay

In light of Mukherjee’s call for political will, Galvez-Tan said that mayors of municipalities should be accountable for maternal deaths in their area of responsibility.

He said that one way of lowering MMR is by providing midwives for every barangay in the country. Out of the 42,000 barangays, only 24,000 have midwives.

Galvez-Tan cited Sultan Kudarat as a good example. “Since 1998, there has been one midwife per barangay in that province. And for 10 years, there has been zero percent MMR.”

He added that investing in midwives is an “economically efficient investment compared to investing in doctors and nurses.”