EASTERN VISAYAS, Philippines – This is Yolanda in numbers: 4 million people displaced, 102,000 people living in evacuation centers or makeshift homes, an estimated 1.1 million homes totally or partially destroyed.
Damage to health care facilities (which includes birthing facilities and hospitals) was estimated to be 50%, in some areas 90%. This means that healthcare facilities were partially or totally destroyed in many of the typhoon affected areas which – even before Yolanda – were among the poorest provinces in the country.
Now, here’s the reality behind those numbers.
With many health facilities totally destroyed and ambulances washed away, it is the worst circumstance to deliver a baby. With many farming crops and fishing boats washed away and coconut trees torn from their roots, there are not many livelihood opportunities, it is the most undesirable time to get pregnant.
Whichever way you look at it, post Yolanda is not the best time to have a baby and or get pregnant.
Here’s another number: according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) an expected 1,000 women are expected to give birth everyday over the next 3 months. Many are also expected to get pregnant.
For some, it will be because their preferred birth control method was washed away by the tide. With many health systems destroyed, their access to health care and birth control will be disrupted. Even if the health facility in their village is still functioning, chances are, many of the center’s contraceptive supplies would be damaged, wet or washed away.
Those are the pragmatic reasons as to why women would still get pregnant at a time of a calamity the proportions of Yolanda. It does not assume certain realities that are the norm in the Visayas region, Yolanda’s epicenter.
For instance, it assumes that these women had contraceptive supplies and methods available to them in the first place – but that is not always the case. During a reproductive health mission in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where Yolanda first made landfall, a woman who was pregnant with her fifth child, was advised by the attending doctor to stop having more children. She was in her mid-30s and having more children could be life threatening.
“Gusto sana ng asawa ko, maka babae kami,” she said, shyly. (My husband wants to have a girl.)
They already had 4 boys and were hoping that her current pregnancy would be a girl. “Gusto ko sana magpa-ligate noon, pero sa amin hindi pwede kung hindi pumayag ang lalaki.” (I wanted to get a tubal ligation before but where we’re from, a woman cannot get a tubal ligation without the consent of her husband.)
“Pero ngayon, ok na, pwede na [magpa-ligate] kahit hindi ipaalam sa asawa,” she quickly added. (But now, it’s okay, I get a ligation even without telling my husband.)
The need for intimacy
But here is the human reason why people will still continue to have sex in the time of Yolanda – this is what the numbers won’t tell you.
In the face of such devastation and despair, there is a human need to connect to another person; there is a desperate attempt to reclaim your humanity and regain, even for a brief period, a sense of normalcy.
In the face of such loss, grief and bereavement, there is an intense human need to seek solace and comfort in others.
There will be a need for the security that any form of intimacy can offer.
And there will an equal and related need for birth control and contraception.
Unfortunately, it is a need that will not always be met.
In one RH medical mission in Guiuan, Eastern Samar which was done in yard of a Catholic school, the nuns came to inspect the hygiene and dignity kits that were being distributed to make sure there were no pills or condoms inside. Fine, the kits really did not contain contraceptives anyway. But the nuns also prohibited the healthcare professions from dispensing any information on family planning methods or options.
It was a scene that was all too similar to Sendong in 2010 when contraceptives were not allowed to be distributed in evacuation centers. It was scandalous and inappropriate to do such a thing in times of disaster, the local government said.
And yet, in the face of total destruction in the time of Sendong and in this time of Yolanda, for many people sex, intimacy is the only thing they have left, why must they continued to be denied RH? – Rappler.com
Ana P. Santos is a regular contributor for Rappler aside from this Dash of SAS (Sex and Sensibilities) column. Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.