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Yolanda’s babies

/ 09:06 PM November 19, 2013

By now, 12 days after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” hit our shores, stories of babies being born amid devastation, in ruined huts, among the rubble of what had once been health centers and hospitals, and even in the Tacloban airstrip as the mother waited in line for a flight out of the city, have become commonplace.

In the first few days after the disaster hit, the births were heralded as symbols of hope amid desperation, the arrival of new life even as thousands of the dead and dying lay all around them.

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But the continuing reality is that babies will continue to be born in the areas hardest-hit by Yolanda; and that, given the less-than-ideal conditions of their deliveries, their and their mothers’ survival will be precarious.

This is what the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warns, saying some 235,000 pregnant women affected by the “super typhoon” urgently need assistance, “particularly the restoration of maternal and newborn health services.”

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Government estimates that as much as 13 million Filipinos have been affected by Yolanda, with the UNFPA estimating that 900 deliveries are taking place every day in the affected areas, “many in makeshift clinics, in the absence of functioning medical facilities and skilled birth attendants.” The agency estimates that each day approximately 130 of these mothers “will experience potentially life-threatening complications.” Equally in need of attention are about 157,000 mothers and their children delivered in the past six months, who need “care to prevent diseases that could lead to maternal or infant deaths.”

“Babies continue to be born even in emergencies like this one, and women have to give birth without access to even the most basic essentials for safe delivery. In these situations, the sudden loss of medical support puts women and their newborns at higher risk of death or injury,” said Genevieve Ah-sue, acting UNFPA representative in the Philippines.

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Thus, the UNFPA is mobilizing some P172 million to support the restoration of health services for maternal and newborn care, including emergency obstetrics care to ensure safe births.

Among its priorities in Yolanda-affected areas are:

• Provision of clinical delivery equipment, supplies and medicines for temporary birthing facilities.

• Provision of clean delivery kits for women in their last trimester of pregnancy. These kits contain supplies that allow women to deliver at home in cases where they do not have access to a clinic.

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• Setting up of health centers to provide primary health care, including basic emergency obstetric care.

• Distribution of hygiene kits to women and girls of child-bearing age, with pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as priorities.

In hard-hit Eastern Samar, said the UNFPA, equipment and supplies that the agency prepositioned at the provincial health office have been deployed to the municipality of Guiuan. These include delivery beds, midwifery kits and hospital beds. A generator set, cold storage for medicines and hygiene kits are also on the way to the province.

UNFPA staff are part of interagency teams assessing conditions in affected areas, including the health status of the affected population, especially pregnant women, and living conditions of displaced people, including vulnerability to sexual violence.

“In times of crisis, the risk of maternal and infant mortality rises. The most critical interventions for safe child delivery are providing women with skilled care during childbirth and ensuring that women who experience life-threatening complications have prompt access to emergency obstetric care,” Ah-sue said.

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Guest at the weekly “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” yesterday (Tuesday) was Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Angel “Bodet” Honrado.

He had some good news to share, a shaft of light amid the general gloom and doom in the news these days. By next year, he vows, we will see a newly refurbished, “retrofitted” Naia Terminal 1.

The airport is the country’s major gateway, the first sight any foreigner (or returning resident) sees of the Philippines, and certainly a factor in whether the visitor is of a mind to enjoy his or her stay or is doomed to view everything from then on with prejudice and pessimism.

So it’s certainly good news that work is starting on upgrading the three decades old airport, starting with engineering and basic structural strengthening, then moving on to more cosmetic changes like interior design and traffic flow.

As for the other terminals, Honrado says some refurbishing is being done on the Centennial Terminal, such as new carpets to replace the old frayed and stained ones, while work will soon begin to bring Terminal 3 up to scratch.

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Once Terminal 3 is up and running to full capacity, Honrado says he is thinking of transferring some international airlines, especially those who bring in the biggest volume of passengers at the busiest hours in Terminal 1, to the new digs.

There are also plans to build a Terminal 5 (Terminal 4 is the old domestic airport) beside Terminal 3 to accommodate the displaced domestic passengers and routes that now mostly use Terminal 3.

What of suggestions to transfer the entire gateway operations to the Clark airport in Pampanga? Honrado says he is not in favor of it as its attendant costs—building a new, larger terminal and a dedicated freeway or railway to cut down commuting time—would be astronomical.

Instead, he suggests “using Clark as a second gateway to serve areas in northern Luzon.”

“Far better to do what we can to improve our existing airports,” he comments.

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TAGS: column, Maternal health, Naia Terminal 1, pregnancy, retrofitting, Rina Jimenez-David, typhoon `Yolanda, unfpa
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