October 17, 2020
The Philippines has recorded a relatively high mortality rate of 111 maternal deaths per 100,000 women giving birth, prompting health authorities to step up to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of reducing the mortality ratio to 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.
Heightened focus on helping poor families cope with a further worsening poverty situation due to COVID-19 has prompted the government to maximize the use of digital platforms to deliver family planning services as part of efforts to curb this high maternal death rate.
“The large number of unmet need for family planning in the country still translates to around 2,000 women dying of maternal related causes,” said Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH, Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) executive director, at Bayer’s Asia Pacific Virtual Forum on Women’s Health, Empowerment, and Progress (VHEP). “Our maternal mortality ratio is at around 111 per hundred thousand women giving birth.”
While the country has achieved success in reducing unmet family planning need early this decade from 2013, such success is being eroded by the limited access by the poor.
According to the National Demographic and Health Survey 2017, the unmet need for family planning has already decreased to 17%. This accounts for 2 million Filipino women who have difficulty accessing family planning and contraceptive methods due to financial means or other hindrances. Current movement limitations on transportation and health services due to the pandemic is again raising this rate of unmet family planning need.
“What we’ve seen on the ground is that because of lockdowns and restrictions, there is limited public transport, particularly in Metro Manila and in nearby regions,” added Dr. Perez during the Bayer-hosted forum. “The less fortunate rely heavily on this mode of transportation to get the services they need.”
Limitations: Women across Asia Pacific are experiencing difficulties accessing family planning services due to the global crisis. However, the worst is being felt by developing countries like the Philippines with its already large population at 109 million.
“Among higher-income countries and territories such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, women have long enjoyed great access to sexual reproductive health. They have seen smaller family sizes and low levels of fertility,” Dr. Ashish Bajracharya, South East Asia Population Council Deputy Director also said during the same virtual forum. “For lower- and middle-income countries, it continues to be a challenge for women to access sexual reproductive health and family planning services. There are higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, particularly for vulnerable groups such as adolescents.”
COVID-19 has also caused budget restrictions, as focus is now on testing, treatment, and quarantine measures. Dr. Perez commented, “We have a lot in place for which we have prioritized resources, but because of the constraints due to our situation, we may have to bring down the budget a bit for next year, and that is a concern for [us at POPCOM].”
Online help: Prior to the pandemic, the number of women using family planning has doubled from 4 to 8 million, according to the POPCOM chief. “Our gap is now only at 2 million women—the last mile, you might say. But with COVID-19 restrictions, we had to set up help lines and social media platforms. Women can call a number and arrange for a meeting between the midwives who can deliver the service. They can access such by visiting http://www.popcom.gov.ph. We also have active chat facilities in our Facebook pages: @OfficialPOPCOM and @UsapTayoSaFamilyPlanning.”
He further stated, “POPCOM health workers are going the extra mile of delivering contraceptives to the homes of poor women who are quarantined within their communities.”
Dr. Perez mentioned that they are looking to other channels to augment their efforts: “Digital means of delivering family planning services will still be one of our priorities. Women and their maternal health are priorities of great importance in our health plans.”
“Women take on many burdens. They work at home and they take on income-generating tasks, which makes them an important facet for the household economy,” remarked the undersecretary. “An unplanned pregnancy will lead to economic deprivation and an untimely use of savings. With this, women should have a choice when it comes to reproductive health to maintain that status of contributing to the economy. Melody Mendoza Aguiba