More mothers dying while Congress sits on RH bill

By LILITA BALANE, Newsbreak

Posted at Jun 18 2009 01:59 AM | Updated as of Jun 18 2009 09:59 AM

Number of pregnancy-related deaths doubled in the last four years

The average number of Filipino women who die yearly due to childbirth and pregnancy complications has doubled in the last four years, but this doesn’t seem to alarm lawmakers who continue to oppose the reproductive health bill, according to health and women’s groups.

A study by the international reproductive health research group Guttmacher Institute presented Tuesday showed that 3,500 pregnancy-related deaths were recorded in the Philippines in 2008.

It was twice the annual average—1,783 deaths—recorded by the Philippine Health Statistics from 2000 to 2004.

For every 100,000 live births last year, 200 mothers suffered from pregnancy complications—like infection, severe bleeding, hypertension, and abortion—which led to their deaths. The United Nations Population Fund explained that maternal deaths can be prevented given the proper diagnosis and intervention.

Preventable
Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of women’s health organization Likhaan, said pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented if pregnant women, especially those who are from the poorest families and living in the rural areas, have easy access to family planning services, pre-natal check-ups, emergency obstetric care, and skilled birth attendants.

“Many of the unintended pregnancies lead to abortion. This places the life of a woman at risk,” Melgar said, adding that half of all pregnancies in the Philippines are unplanned.

Health groups at the 26th Usapan PopDev (Population Development) said that the reproductive bill, which is pending in the House of Representatives, could respond to the problem of the escalating maternal deaths in the country.

House Bill 5043 has a range of programs to promote reproductive health through education and access to both natural and artificial family planning methods. Authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the bill met calls for shelving from lawmakers who claim that the bill legalizes abortion and that some of the artificial contraceptives cited in the bill are not safe.

Children at Risk, Too
Likhaan’s Melgar said that lawmakers should see that maternal mortality is connected to high infant deaths in the country.

The Guttmachers Institute report showed that an estimated 52,000 babies in the Philippines died before reaching their first birthday, and 30,000 of them died within a month after being born. National Statistics Office data showed an average of 25,116 infant deaths from 2000 to 2003.

“Women’s concerns are always tied to children’s concerns. The child could not be healthy if the mother is not healthy, if the mother is dying. Infant mortality rate may not go down when the maternal mortality rate is high. When women are dying or sick, they cannot provide their children the warmth, the right nourishment, and the right protection,” Melgar said.

Political Priorities
Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning, scored lawmakers for putting the bill aside and instead delving into less urgent political matters like amending the Constitution.

“The reason for these (maternal deaths and infant deaths) is plain and simple—Filipinos have very little access or no access to family planning services even if they wanted to,” De Leon said.

Economist Ernesto Pernia of the University of the Philippines said: “Political priorities are taking their front seat, and economic and social priorities, including family planning, health and education priorities, are taking the backseat…. This is practically illustrated by setting aside the RH bill. It has long been in the frontline, but it was set aside by other hot issues.” (Newsbreak)