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At Large
Olivia’s story

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:07:00 09/22/2010

Filed Under: Family planning, Women, Health, Entertainment (general), Music

RIGHT FROM the beginning, we know how ?Olivia?s Story? ends. A mother of nine from Barangay Tonsuya in Malabon, she died delivering her 10th child, under the care of a hilot or traditional birth attendant (TBA) in their community.

Her mother revealed that Olivia sought a hilot?s services mainly to save money, since a trip to the hospital, even a government hospital, would still have entailed costs beyond their family?s capacity. Ofelia, the TBA, said she learned the trade ?just from watching? other hilots in her family assist mothers at birth. Among Ofelia?s arsenal of skills: plucking hair from the mother?s head and placing it on the mother?s belly ?to ease the delivery.?

Among the children orphaned by Olivia?s passing was her eldest daughter, 13, who cradled the youngest in her lap as she tearfully faced the interviewer. What will the future hold for this motherless family? And as my seatmate asked while we viewed the documentary: Where is the father in all this?

Chi Laigo Vallido, who wrote and produced the documentary with the help of the NGO Hain, sought to place Olivia?s story within the overall context of maternal health in the Philippines. A total of 37,000 women died due to pregnancy and childbirth in 2008, the narrator noted, and 2,100 of these deaths could have been avoided if family planning had been more widely available. Demand for quality obstetric care is still way beyond the capacity of the health system to meet. In Tonsuya itself, the two-year-old delivery center managed by an NGO has performed an average of 40-50 births a day since it opened. Mothers who have no room at the delivery center or who cannot make it to a hospital or clinic on time share Olivia?s fate. And we are talking of Tonsuya in Malabon, in the middle of Metro Manila.

* * *

THROUGHOUT the three-day ?Women Deliver? conference on maternal health, the stories of women like Olivia crouched at the back of our minds. They reminded us that as we traded information and statistics, shared experiences and best practices and explored new frontiers in contraception and post-natal care, the lives of ?real? women, many of them perhaps unaware of the conference proceedings, were on the line.

The programs discussed, the policies debated at the plenary sessions, especially during the parallel parliamentarians? forum, could determine in the near future how many more (or less) women would die as a consequence of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies or of deliveries performed under less-than-ideal conditions. And since the fates of mothers and their infants are inextricably intertwined, they would also determine how many more (or less) babies would die within the first few hours or days after birth.

Ben de Leon, a veteran in population matters and a ?grandfather figure? at the conference as the head of one of the sponsoring institutions, Forum on Family Planning and Development, said it best when he opened the Media Congress at the conference?s opening day. Government, he said, ?can no longer ignore the infant and maternal health situation? in the country.

Perhaps it would be a bit much to say government has ?ignored? such vital indicators of the country?s state of health as maternal mortality and infant mortality. But the sluggish pace of reduction in the MMR and IMR, when our neighbors have managed to bring their own rates plunging, shows that not enough has been done, including prioritizing policies and funneling the necessary funding.

* * *

AS A 50-year-old bachelor, President Noynoy may not have much experience in reproductive matters, and may not know much about the demands on body, mind and morale of parenthood. I would understand it if maternal and newborn health were not at the top of his priority lists, along with family welfare and child survival.

But from everything we?ve heard and seen of him, he does have a soft spot for children, gravitating towards the very young folk even at formal events. By all accounts he is a caring and concerned uncle and father-figure, especially to his nephew Josh. And as he stated, ?hope springs eternal? in his heart that his present romantic relationship will blossom into a deeper commitment, time constraints permitting.

From such promising signs do we dare pin our hopes that this bachelor President will have a more open and humane mind-set towards matters reproductive and sexual. His predecessor was a married woman, mother and grandmother. But she chose to adopt the views of celibate prelates who see women as a source of sin and weakness while crafting her administration?s population policy. I am confident that the President, especially after his New York trip and exposure to development experts at the UN Summit, will emerge a champion not just of human rights, but of human well-being. I am hopeful that in the next six years he will, like the ?Women Deliver? participants, keep ?real? women, children and men at the back of his mind as he governs and runs the country.

* * *

VISUAL artists and musicians are getting together on Friday, Sept. 24 for ?A Tribute to the Beatles,? the theme of the Art and Music Fest Manila 2010.

The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with a tribute to the Fab Four, entitled ?With a little help from my friends,? that features a visual art exhibit, live music jam, a display of Beatles memorabilia, souvenir booths and interactive arts at the GSIS Museum in Pasay.

Participating artists, among them our friend Del Garcia, will be putting on show old and new works in painting, sculpture, photography and other art forms, while musicians Bob Balingit, Flashback, Delfin Ortiz, Chickoy Pura, Mon Espia and the GSIS Choir perform Beatles songs and Beatles-inspired numbers.

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