Maternal Health in the Philippines

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By Genevieve Gomez, WYA Asia Pacific Member

“Sixty years have passed since the founders of the United Nations inscribed, on the first page of our Charter, the equal rights of men and women. Since then, study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health—including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation. And I would also venture that no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended. But whatever the very real benefits of investing in women, the most important fact remains: Women themselves have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from want and from fear.”

– UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

In the Philippine’s midterm progress report on the Millennium Development Goals, it was revealed that the country still has a low probability (http://www.undp.org.ph/?link=goal_5) of significantly achieving maternal health for Filipinas or even improving it. In addition, the United Nations Development Program has noted that the Philippines is far from achieving the target goal of decreasing the country’s maternal mortality ratio (http://www.undp.org.ph/?link=mdg_goals_indicators) by three quarters. To make matters worse, it is daunting that the MDG’s deadline of 2015 is fast approaching.

Though the Philippine’s economy has been touted as the strongest in Asia (http://www.businessweek.com/videos/2012-08-08/philippines-strongest-economy-in-asia), it is saddening that MDG 5, on maternal health and care, lags so far behind in the country. I believe that it is high time for the Philippine government to make serious and conscious efforts to improve the health of women. We need to dramatically reduce maternal mortality rates through a series of projects targeting education, health, sanitation, and more.

It is very timely that a pro-mother employee legislation is now on its way to be passed in Congress. Philippine lawmaker, Congresswoman Maria Evita Arago, is pushing for the passing of House Bill 6691 (http://www.congress.gov.ph/press/details.php?pressid=6720). This bill mainly provides for a comprehensive program for pregnant employees that include monthly medical leaves throughout the course of their pregnancy, security of tenure once they temporarily leave the workplace and flexible working hours (http://www.philstar.com/nation/2013/01/10/895407/comprehensive-program-pregnant-employees-pushed). Also under the bill, the National Economic and Development Authority will assist any pregnant employee below the poverty line.

Arago’s initiative to provide comprehensive programs and flexible working hours for pregnant employees is one way that the government can positively influence the country’s maternal mortality ratio because it highlights a mother’s need for care. The extensive care provided by the government will allow women to focus more on their pregnancy, planning, and other necessities of child-bearing. Policy-makers and government officials should view this as a big encouragement to take their roles and responsibilities more seriously in enhancing the quality of maternal health care and living conditions of women.

House Bill 6691 not only will deeply improve the maternal health of pregnant employees, but also it will empower and affirm women’s role and significance in nation-building. To read WYA’s White Paper on Maternal Health click here.