At Large

Justin’s love for women

/ 05:07 AM November 15, 2017

Jeany Gonzaga, 28, is due to deliver this month. During the hours she waited, along with other mothers, for the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she reported feeling abdominal cramps. “We thought she was starting her labor,” said Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of Likhaan, the nongovernment organization (NGO) that set up and maintains the women’s clinic on Zaragosa Street, Tondo. “But,” added Junice, “it turns out she was just very excited.”

And who would not be? Trudeau was everything as advertised — tall, charming, visibly excited at meeting the women and staff of the clinic. The reason he was visiting is that the Likhaan Women’s Health Center is funded by Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian government’s international development arm, through the NGO Inter Pares.


The meet and greet was to take place in front of the clinic, while Trudeau was to tour the facilities escorted only by Melgar with a few staff to explain the various services and equipment, most of which were donated by the Canadian government.

The mothers waited in line, cradling their babies. In order of their meeting with the prime minister, they were: Glenda Lorenzo, 23, who had delivered her baby (a large-eyed girl with winning dimples) at the clinic last June; Hazel Borja, 36, cradling her tiny eighth baby, whom Trudeau looked closely at, asking concerned questions; Jeany; and Cherry Mae Idlisan, 21, who had delivered her third baby.


Daisy Andes, 28, delivered her second baby in June; while Veronica Centinaje, 36, delivered her fourth baby on Oct. 12. Veronica is also a volunteer community health promoter, informing her neighbors about the services offered (for free) at the clinic and coordinating their checkups.

Some 900 women regularly visit the Likhaan clinic, which opened last March, mainly for family planning, Melgar said. An activist since her UP College of Medicine days, Melgar cofounded Likhaan in 1995 together with Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio, who was recently named dean of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development. (Disclosure, I sit on the board of trustees of Likhaan.)

The clinic provided birthing services only last May since PhilHealth took a long time granting them accreditation. The government health insurance provider covers all expenses related to prenatal care and delivery, plus post-partum family planning. A total of 110 women received prenatal care so far, while 12 delivered at the clinic. A total of 63 patients were referred to hospitals as per PhilHealth’s requirements. The clinic’s ambulance and a midwife accompany the mothers about to give birth.

Clinics such as those managed by Likhaan (another partner is Doctors Without Borders, which fund even bigger operations in other clinics) are increasingly filling in for the lack of services and commodities of government health centers.

A study commissioned by the European Union in three urban poor areas showed that in 2012, pharmacies were the top source of contraceptives at 38.7 percent, followed by government hospitals at 33.3 percent, Likhaan at 18 percent, and barangay health centers (BHCs) at 8 percent. Three years later, in 2015, “there occurred a dramatic shift,” with Likhaan leading the pack at 41.3 percent, followed by government hospitals at 33 percent, pharmacies (private sector) at 16.8 percent and BHCs at 6 percent.

This is why Trudeau’s visit to the Zaragosa clinic was notable not just for the “kilig factor” brought about by his personal presence, but also for the statement implicit in his interest in and involvement with the reproductive health and rights of Filipino women. While social media went all agog over his visit to Jollibee, by dropping by the Likhaan clinic as soon as he landed, he showed just how important it is to look after the welfare of women and children. After all, it’s been said, a country’s worth is ultimately judged by how it looks after the health, rights and welfare of its most helpless and least powerful citizens. The babies in the arms of their mothers may not remember anything from their starring role in Trudeau’s visit, but surely their future will be colored by the events of that day.

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TAGS: At Large, Global Affairs Canada, Justin Trudeau, Likhaan Women's Health Center, Rina Jimenez-David
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