MANILA, Philippines–More Filipino mothers are dying during childbirth, underscoring their “unmet need” for modern family planning services, the Department of Health said Monday.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona, in a press briefing, said the mortality rate for Filipino mothers has increased to 221 per 100,000 live births in 2011 from 162 per 100,000 live births in 2009. Under the Millennium Development Goals, the global set of targets for reducing poverty, the Philippines must lower the maternal mortality rate to 52 per 100,000 live births.
He described the latest statistics as “alarming,” noting that maternal health is an important indicator of the government’s performance in improving the health of its citizens.
“We can only say that the entire health system is improving if the maternal mortality rate is also improving,” he said.
Ona lamented that poor delivery of health services for the poor was one of the main causes of death. Maternal deaths, he noted, is highly preventable if the women have access to sufficient reproductive health care services, he said.
“Reducing maternal deaths and meeting our MDG requires critical legislation to address structural barriers to universal health care,” Ona said.
“Hence we need to pass the Reproductive Health Bill now, amend the midwifery and other health professions law, as well as consolidate local health systems at provincial level,” he added.
The Reproductive Health Bill, which seeks universal access and support to information on family planning, maternal and infant health care, sexual and reproductive health issues, is languishing in Congress for several years now due to vehement opposition of the Catholic Church and some lawmakers. Those who oppose the bill said this could make abortion prevalent and lead the youth into promiscuity.
Ona noted that government support for family planning programs in the past decade have failed 6 million women, 2 million of which are considered poor.
He noted that maternal deaths were highly preventable through effective family planning services, antenatal care, and access to health facilities. The health chief said investments in health care facilities in the Philippines, which are mostly overcrowded, have only started in 2010.
“The road to attaining our MDG becomes even more challenging, but all systems are in place,” he said.
Ona said the government is setting aside P6 billion to repair and expand government clinics and hospital. Furthermore, about 5 million Filipinos still have to be enrolled in Philhealth.
This year, Ona said the DoH will distribute P500 million worth of family planning commodities and supplies nationwide. It will also allocate P868 million for the deployment of community health teams to provide families with basic health and medical information.
In contrast to the dire statistics of maternal health care, the DoH noted that the Philippines has been improving slightly on child mortality.
According to the DoH, the country’s child mortality rate has declined to 30 per 1,000 live births from 32 in 2009. “This moves the Philippines closer to meeting its MDG of 27 deaths per 1,000 live births,” the DoH said. It attributed the improvement to sustained immunization of babies and school children in the country.