UN, WHO: Reproductive health in the Philippines lags behind ASEAN neighbors

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According to the World Health Organization, almost two out of three Filipinas are not using any birth control method. This results to unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The state of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in the Philippines has been lagging in Southeast Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday (March 4).

With a population of 104 million, 28 percent or one in four pregnancies in the Philippines is unwanted. Almost two out of three Filipinas are not using any form of birth control, and one in four women get pregnant within a year because they prefer using traditional over modern contraception.

Unintended pregnancies may lead to maternal or perinatal deaths and unsafe abortions. While the Philippines has decreased maternal deaths from 152 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 114 in 2015, the country still fell short of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target of 52 deaths per 100,000 live births.

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“Among the females who had their first sexual encounter, 78 percent of them are unprotected,” said Klaus Beck, country representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the Philippines.

The WHO cited common reasons for not choosing modern contraception: unfounded fear of side effects, opposition from religious groups, lack of knowledge, and lightly taking the risk of pregnancy.

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The UNFPA said the situation is more serious in the slums and the hinterlands, since poor and marginalized women do not have universal access to SRH.

“There is still a large unmet need for family planning among women, particularly the poorest of the poor who are having an average of up to three children more than they would want,” said Beck.

Government not supportive

According to the Philippine Commission on Population (POPCOM), all these result from the indecisiveness of political leaders.

“One of the problems is apathy in most sectors towards reproductive health and this is coming for the first decade of the century. The national government was not that supportive of the reproductive health program,” said Juan Antonio Perez III, executive director of POPCOM.

RH advocates are pushing for the full implementation of the law, which guarantees access to reproductive health care and sex education.

But at the start of 2016, lawmakers removed the P1 billion budget for contraceptives.

Also read: RH law author: P1B budget cut affects marginalized sector

“Global evidence clearly shows that universal access to family planning is essential to prevent maternal and newborn deaths; is vital to achieving gender equality; and contributes to poverty reduction and inclusive development,” said Yoriko Yasukawa, UNFPA Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, in a statement.

“We strongly encourage the reversal of the budget deletion.” 

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However, Beck is optimistic: “The law is there, there is funding available. The challenge is how to make sure that the funding translates into actual [services that address women’s needs.]”

There remains a need for national and local governments to monitor health workers and the distribution of SRH services down the chain.

“They make sure the right message is out,” said Howard Sobel, program coordinator of WHO.

“They make sure that the health workers know the messages and they make sure that it is available.”

CNN Philippines’ Rex Remitio contributed to this report.