Meeting RH-related SDG targets: ‘Work must start from Day 1’

Jee Y. Geronimo
Meeting RH-related SDG targets: ‘Work must start from Day 1’
Former health secretary Esperanza Cabral talks about what the Philippines must do differently to achieve the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals related to reproductive health

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines did not meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) targets related to reproductive health (RH), such as reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to RH services.

According to former health secretary Esperanza Cabral, this is because the country “simply did not pay attention” to these targets for the past 10-12 years.

“When there’s just two to 3 years before we’re supposed to achieve something, [and] we want to hurry up and do something to achieve it, that’s impossible,” Cabral, who chairs the National Implementation Team of the RH law, said in a recent Rappler Talk interview.

As of September 2015, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed the country’s pace of progress is slow when it comes to reducing maternal mortality ratio and increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Target: Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio
Indicator Baseline Target Latest Probability
Maternal mortality ratio 209
(in 1990)
(by 2015)
221 (182-260)
(as of 2011)
Low; pace of progress is less than 0.5 
Target: Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health
Indicator Baseline Target Latest Probability
Contraceptive prevalence rate

(in 1993)

(by 2015)

(as of 2013)

Low; pace of progress is less than 0.5 

Cabral attributed the high maternal mortality rate to lack of access to contraception.

“We cannot do what we did [in] the MDGs with the SDGs….What we need to do now is from Day 1, we need to start working so that at the end of 15 years, we will achieve our committed development goals,” Cabral said.

With the expiration of the MDGs, the Philippines joined other countries in the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, with targets meant to be achieved in the next 15 years.

The goals are ambitious, including those related to RH:

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

    • Target: By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

    • Target: Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

But what will the country do differently to achieve these new targets?

“This time, it helps that we have the reproductive health law,” Cabral said. The RH bill was enacted in 2012, but was only declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014.

Since then, government has worked closely with civil society organizations (CSOs) to implement the law on the ground.

In 2015, the health department, local government units, and CSOs provided around 1 million women with family planning services.

But there is still a lot of work to do. According to Cabral, about 5 million women in the country have unmet needs for modern family planning. These women desire to practice family planning but don’t have the means to do so.

Challenges in implementing RH law

For Cabral, the RH law in itself will not be enough for the country to reach its SDG targets; the law must also be funded accordingly.

“This time, the legislators must be true to the law that they themselves passed and fund all of the necessary expenses related to improving maternal mortality, improving infant and under-5 mortality, and improving universal access to reproductive health services.”

Her statement comes on the heels of the removal of a P1-billion allocation in the 2016 budget meant for the procurement of family planning commodities such as condoms, pills, and IUDs. (READ: RH budget cut exposes problematic lawmaking in PH)

Cabral said the budget cut will affect government’s efforts to respond to two of the biggest challenges in implementing the RH law: the high unmet needs for family planning commodities, and the high and increasing rate of teenage pregnancy. (READ: DBM: Enough funds in 2016 budget for RH law)

As it is, the health department is already facing a lot of challenges in implementing the law, including the lack of trained health service providers, the “lag time” in distributing RH goods from Metro Manila to remote areas, and local government units unsupportive of the law.

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.