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RH Law cited in international women’s conference

Ana P. Santos
The Philippines' RH Law was cited as an achievement for advancing contraceptive access and improving maternal health

CONFIDENT MEASURE. DOH Secretary Enrique Ona shares the Philippine experience. All photos by Ana Santos/Rappler

KUALA LUMPUR, Malayasia The enactment of the Reproductive Health Law in the Philippines was cited as one of the achievements made at advancing contraceptive access and improving maternal health at the Women Deliver 2013 Conference.

Women Deliver is a global advocacy organization that calls for political commitment and financial investment to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health. 

“It took strong political will and the support of none less than the President,  the communities and women’s groups to get this historic bill passed,” Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona told the estimated 5,000 delegates in attendance.

“Reproductive Health (RH) is mixed with abortion,” said Ona, explaining the division that the RH   Law created in a predominantly Catholic country. The RH Law languished in legislative debate for 14 years before it was passed. “So we changed our strategy and our communication.  RH was not just a health issue; it was an issue of poverty and life.”

According to the 2008 National Demographic Health Survey, there are an estimated 1.4 million women of reproductive age who are using modern family planning methods such as the Pill. However, an even larger number—2.2 million—are not using any contraceptive method at all.

“There has been significant progress made in just 11 months since the London Summit,” said Melinda Gates, co-chairman of the Gates Foundation. “But that just means that there is more hard work to be done, too. We need to ensure that women and girls continue to be at the center of the agenda.”

WOMEN'S CHOICE. Pushing the girl agenda. Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation has committed to making contraception access and maternal health a priority of the foundation

The London Summit on Family Planning in July 2012 raised over US$2.6 billion to ensure that 260 million women would have continued access to contraceptives and that coverage of these family planning commodities would be extended to 120 million more girls by 2020.

“We were able to put contraception in the agenda in London, now we need to make sure women and young girls are able to access contraception without coercion; is the quality of care she receives  as good as that which anyone else will receive?  We need to make sure that she is getting quality healthcare information.”

The DOH estimates that there are about 2.2 million Filipino mothers who have an unmet need for family planning, meaning 2.2 million mothers want to limit or space births but are not able to do so.

But what about implementation? 

Ona admitted that the enactment of the RH Law was temporarily suspended pending a hearing with the Supreme Court scheduled  on June 18, 2013.  However, he remained confident that the RH Law would not be reversed. “It is the constitutionality of the RH Law that is being questioned and I am sure that will not be a problem.”

In the meantime, Ona said that the DOH has begun procuring additional family planning supplies and has been working on the establishment of a central body within the DOH that will oversee the management and implementation of the RH Law. 

“When the RH law is cleared for implementation, we will be ready,” said Ona.

Building confidence

“In all that we do, we need to build confidence. We need to make sure human resources are there and that a supply chain system is in place. We have to go even further to build stronger delivery systems,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin,  Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“Country governments need to provide domestic sources. We need to build a system on inventory.  We need to provide quality (RH) service to make sure people come back for these services,” added Osotimehin.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 222 million still have an unmet need for contraception, with most of these women living in the developing world.

Studies have shown that access to family planning would prevent 54 million unintended pregnancies, 26 million abortions and 1.1 million infant deaths and 79,000 maternal deaths worldwide. –

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