Told this information, Ginalyn can only shake her head. She was pregnant at 16 years old and had never had access to medical services even in her early youth. She underwent the period of her pregnancy merely hoping for the best and relying mainly on the advise of family and the midwife who visited every month. She even gave birth at home, with the midwife delivering Airish.
Airish, in the meantime, previous to being brought to Muntinlupa, had never been checked by a pediatrician.
Now almost six months old, Airish lives temporarily in a small apartment rented by Ginalyn’s cousin Irene Cruzat in Muntinlupa.
Irene is currently unemployed and has a three year old daughter. Her own partner works as a pedicab driver. Despite having very small means of survival herself, Irene is determined to help her cousin and her baby.
“I look at the baby and it breaks my heart that she has to suffer such a burden at so young an age. Anyone can see that she’s beautiful. I want so much to help her,” Irene said.
Ginalyn can benefit greatly from a reproductive health law. The RH Bill provides for for more than just family planning and making artificial contraceptive methods available to the poor. The proposal aims for making prenatal and maternal healthcare more accessible, as well as giving the youth necessary information on reproductive health and safety. (Photo by Ina Alleco R. Silverio / bulatlat.com)
Irene took Ginalyn and Airish to the GMA-7 television station main office in Quezon City, and secured the assistance of the Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko Foundation. The foundation promised to shoulder the costs of Airish’s check ups at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) as well as the operation Airish needs to have the sac removed. This was in March, and from then on they had been going to the PCMC regularly, initially every two days, then eventually it became every week.
“We spend at least P500 in transportation fares with every visit to the PCMC. A one way trip from Muntinlupa costs P68 for each of us, so imagine how much we spent for fare alone every time, ” said Irene.
Robert explains that he wants to find a job but as yet cannot focus on employment hunting because he wants to help Ginalyn and Airish whenever they go to the doctor.
“Sometimes I feel desperate thinking about my baby and where I’m going to get the money for her medical needs. The doctors told us that the operation will cost at least P100,000, so we’re thankful that the foundation is helping us. The medical expenses after the operation are a completely different thing. We don’t know who else to turn to,” said Robert.
The RH Bill and provisions for maternal health care
As Ginalyn and Robert struggle from one day to the next to keep Airish alive, the debate about the Reproductive Health bill (RH Bill) continues to rage not only within the halls of the House of Representatives and outside in the public arena.
Many critics of the RH bill neglect to acknowledge how the proposal provides for more than just family planning and making artificial contraceptive methods available to the poor. They stand against the RH Bill without acknowledging its other provisions, such as those that provide for people’s right to reproductive health care information.
In a nutshell, the section of the bill lay down the government’s responsibility to the Filipino people to provide them with information about the availability of reproductive health care services, including family planning, and prenatal care. The DOH and government information agencies are being tasked to sustain a heightened nationwide multi-media campaign to raise the level of public awareness of the protection and promotion of reproductive health and rights.
There is also a provision stating that each province and city, with the assistance of the DOH, must establish or upgrade hospitals with adequate and qualified personnel, equipment and supplies to be able to provide emergency obstetric and neonatal care.
For every 500,000 population, there shall be at least one (1) hospital with comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal care and four (4) hospitals or other health facilities with basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care. Those living in isolated and depressed areas will also be provided the same level of access.
In the meantime, there is also a provision on age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education.
This proposed curriculum is aimed to be taught by from grade five up to the fourth year level of high school.The curriculum will be common to both public and private schools, out of school youth, and enrollees in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) based on, but not limited to, the psychosocial and the physical wellbeing, the demography and reproductive health, and the legal aspects of reproductive health. The topics will include knowledge and skills in self protection against discrimination, sexual violence and abuse, and teen pregnancy; physical, social and emotional changes in adolescents; children’s and women’s rights; fertility awareness; family planning methods; and responsible parenthood.
Airish and other babies
As things currently stand, the standard of prenatal and maternal health care in the country remains very dismal. Its necessity is widely accepted, yes; but because of the extreme poverty of most Filipinos, a large majority of pregnant women do not have access to quality prenatal care.
In an August 2010 study titled Who Provides Good Quality Prenatal Care in the Philippines , (Rouselle F. Lavado, Leizel P. LagradaValerie Gilbert T. Ulep, and Lester M. TanWomen) , it was stated that women who are older, poorer and with lower educational attainment received poorer quality of prenatal care compared to women who are younger, richer and better educated. Multiparous women are also said to receive poorer quality of prenatal care.
Morbidity and mortality related to pregnancy according to the study are still high. Infant and maternal mortalities are still major problems, where 26 infants in every 1000 live births die and 162 women per 100,000 die due to childbirth. These put the Philippines’ IMR still far from its Millennium Development Goal target of 19/1000 live births and its MMR target of 52/100,000 live births in 2015 (NSCB, 2010).
Airish has many challenges ahead of her, and her own mother — herself still a minor — needs to learn so many things to be able to take care of her baby. Even if poverty is factored out, the lack of valuable information and immediate access to it makes the battle for Airish’s life and survival an uphill one.
Proponents of the RH Bill say that while the proposal will not put an immediate end to infant and maternal deaths, much has to be done to rework the national government’s fiscal priorities where allocations for public health services and education remain pegged to the floor compared to high appropriations for foreign debt servicing and military spending), the plight of babies like Airish can be avoided.