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MANILA, Philippines – After going through a succession of natural disasters, the Philippines slid one spot in the 2014 State of the World’s Mothers’ Index.
International aid organization Save the Children reported Tuesday the country ranks 105th in the annual index together with Uruguay. It ranks behind Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, and ahead of Timor-Leste and Indonesia in Southeast Asia.
The rank was determined using 5 indicators related to maternal well-being such as maternal health and children’s well-being, among others.
The typhoon that hit the Eastern Visayas in the last quarter of 2013 adversely affected women and children. (READ: In Numbers: 6 months after Yolanda)
Save the Children-Philippines Director of Health Dr Francisca Cuevas said that 750 mothers were expected to go into labor after Typhoon Yolanda. Unfortunately, only 7% of the 50% functioning health centers were cleared to facilitate live births.
“Hindi pa restored ang water supply, wala rin sterilizing equipment,” Cuevas said. (Water supply hasn’t been restored yet and there’s also no sterilizing equipment.)
An estimated 45,000 children were born within the first 4 months after the typhoon struck Eastern Visayas outside proper health facilities, according to country director Ned Olney. (READ: Pregnant during Typhoon Yolanda)
Out of 750 births each day in affected areas, 100 are deemed critical and needing special care.
Cuevas recalled one incident when a mother died while giving birth due to a lack of proper equipment.
This kind of incidents pushed Save the Children to donate 2,000 Birth Essentials And Care Of Newborns (BEACON) boxes. A birthing kit contains plastic sheets, tarpaulins, gauze, water purification tablets, sterile blades, sterile cord ties, a lamp, and even a birth certificate. All of these necessities are put in a storm-proof box for emergency purposes.
Olney said these kits will be donated to the most vulnerable barangays in the Philippines, not just in Manila.
“If these birthing kits are in Manila, the amount of time it travels to one place is lost time,” he explained.
Women as victims and helpers
Risa Hontiveros hopes that more people give importance to women and children’s welfare, no different from how the country focuses on the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
She also stressed how vital a mother’s role is, especially after disasters.
“A mother addresses the family’s trauma while suffering their own,” she said, explaining how stress debriefing is badly needed in affected areas.
Filipino midwives noticed how mothers are in a distressed state when giving birth.
This also affects their ability to produce milk due to stress; they end up resorting to milk formulas as substitute. According to the report, fewer infants were breastfed in the aftermath of the typhoon, putting them at risk of disease and death due to insufficient nutrition during the first few months. (READ: Why protect the Milk Code?)
The Department of Health discourages the use of breastmilk substitutes.
Infants who are excusively breastfed in the first 6 months have the biggest chance to survive than non-breastfed children. In the 2011 National Nutrition Survey in the Philippines, exclusive breastfeeding was only 27%.
Cathey Delos Santos, a social worker based in Estancia, said that many mothers simply need to be educated about the techniques that will improve their milk-producing capability.
Helping mothers get back on track
Celebrity and advocate Giselle Tongi noticed the lack of child-friendly spaces (CFS) in the country. CFS are areas where one can leave his or her child to attend to other things, such as work or school.
She recalled how in the United States, these exist to help mothers. Tongi, a mother herself, also availed of this service when she decided to pursue college.
After Yolanda, mothers started heading to Manila to work, leaving their children with inadequate nutrition. CFS makes sure that the children’s welfare will be given high priority.
The organization already established 38 CFS in areas struck by the typhoon with more than 32,000 children.
According to Olney, the latest data pertaining to maternal and child health are a hindrance to achieving two items in the Philippines’ Millennium Development Goals: reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.
“It’s really going to be a challenge,” he said.
Hontiveros asked that proper attention be given to the condition of mothers, especially in disaster-prone communities.
“Let us mainstream the disaster resilience of women and children in communities,” she said. – Rappler.com