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At Large
One big fight

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:41:00 09/21/2010

Filed Under: Poverty, Health, Women, Family planning

PRESIDENT NOYNOY leaves for the United States soon to attend the United Nations global summit on the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs, eight measurable and time-bound targets that, if met and followed through, would mean a significant decline in poverty around the world, both in terms of the number of poor people and the hardships they have to endure.

The good news is that the majority of the world?s governments and leaders signed the Millennium Declaration that enshrines the MDGs, and committed their governments to the attainment of the MDGs by 2015. The bad news, however, is that many of these signatory states will most probably not meet their own commitments, the Philippines included.

While the prospect of a passing grade in meeting the MDGs is bad overall for the Philippines, it is particularly bad with regard to meeting MDGs 4 and 5. This early, experts predict that we will not be able to meet these two goals, and that it will take an extraordinary amount of leadership, political will, budget support and an overhaul of the health system to meet these goals.

MDG 4 aims to reduce the child mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015 but that is very difficult at the moment mainly because we have not significantly reduced neonatal or newborn deaths. The health of newborns is closely linked to the health of mothers, and it is improving maternal health that MDG 5 is all about. There are two parts to MDG 5: to reduce the maternal mortality rate (MMR) down to 52 per 100,000 live births by 2015; and to assure universal access to reproductive health services.

At the moment the Philippines? MMR is 162, still a long way from the target of 52. According to former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, the country would have to reduce the MMR by 20/100,000 each year to meet our goal. And with the national government in all the nine years of the Arroyo administration refusing to allot any national funds to purchase modern contraceptives, the goal of universal access is still remote.

* * *

THIS is why different NGOs, multinational institutions and government agencies, including the Department of Health, agreed to co-sponsor a local version of the ?Women Deliver? conference, first held in 2007 to focus global attention on maternal health.

?Women Deliver Philippines,? held from Sept. 15 to 17, gathered 365 participants from around the country and the world, from 205 agencies, and drew 106 resource persons. They spoke on a wide range of issues from young people?s access to sexual and reproductive health services to the role of midwives; from maternal mortality and human rights to interfaith initiatives on safe motherhood; from investing financial, material and human resources toward attaining MDGs 4 and 5 to exercising effective leadership and country commitment to meeting these same goals.

Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of the NGO Likhaan which headed the conference secretariat, said one of the conference goals was to ?re-energize? the reproductive health community in its efforts to save the lives of women and children. And this seemed to have been fulfilled, for by the time the conference came to a close with participants forming a lively conga line around the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza, the high collective morale was so thick you could breathe it in.

* * *

COMMITMENTS were certainly not lacking from the government representatives present.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona, in his keynote address, acknowledged that the solutions needed to improve maternal health and newborn survival ?do not involve rocket science,? although he acknowledged that these ?require political commitment at the highest levels.?

Ona declared his determination to ?make women?s health a priority,? and noted that MDGs 4 and 5 will be ?the centerpiece of health system reform.? Almost half or 44.1 percent of the national budget for 2011 of P1.65 trillion, the secretary said, will be devoted to strengthening social services, including health. ?We cannot just stand by and watch mothers die, along with their babies,? he said.

Closing the conference, Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde hailed Women Deliver as ?timely, hopeful and relevant,? reminding everyone that ?maternal health is preventable? and that in the effort to prevent mothers dying from pregnancy and childbirth, ?there are no outsiders, only partners.?

The national government?s commitment to promoting reproductive health was further underscored by Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, a resource person at the last plenary discussion. The Aquino administration, she said, was committed to ?promoting responsible parenthood, which includes providing information on all forms of family planning methods.?

* * *

?CHOICE and access,? said Soliman, constituted the keystone of the Aquino government?s policy, reiterating the administration?s support for the pending reproductive health bills, an announcement that was met with applause by the audience.

For its part, the DSWD is pursuing the program of conditional cash transfers or CCTs which will be giving the ?poorest of the poor? families money on condition they meet minimal targets, including sending children more frequently or regularly to school, and visiting health centers for pre- and post-natal care, newborn care and immunization for children.

To emphasize the need for the participation of all sectors of society in promoting the health of mothers and babies, representatives of the different sectors in the conference?young people, health professionals, midwives, religious leaders, community leaders among others?read their commitments in the final outcome document. It was an inspiring sight, showing how unified the community needs to be to if it is to succeed in this fight.

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