“The Aquino government is killing poor Filipino women with its failure to deliver the much needed pro-poor and comprehensive health care services to women.” – Gabriela
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The shocking story of a 28-year old woman who gave herself a caesarian section last week has caught the attention of women’s group Gabriela and the legislators of Gabriela Women’s Party. The women’s rights advocates said the non-existence of a genuinely accessible and pro-poor health care system in the country results in tragedies like this.
“A health care system that truly responds to the needs of women and their children, especially from marginalized families, should show a picture of women in the pink of health. Yet we bear witness to the story of ‘Jane” who performed a caesarean operation on herself using a kitchen knife, personifying a dying health ‘non-care’ system in the country,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus.
Late last week, the tabloids were emblazoned with reports about the Manila-based single woman who aborted her baby by cutting herself open with a kitchen knife without the benefit of any numbing agent or anesthesia. Based on reports, the woman operated on herself by slashing the right lower portion of her abdomen some 10 to 15 centimeters and pulled out the baby.
The baby who did not survive long after the impromptu operation, was estimated to be between eight to nine months. Relatives reportedly discovered the woman after she had managed to sew her abdomen together with an ordinary needle and thread. She was rushed to the Sampaloc Hospital then immediately transferred to Sta. Ana Hospital.
De Jesus said the story was horrifying to say the least, and that if the country had a better health care system and one that also gives priority to maternal health, no mother would have to go through similar experiences.
She also argued that if the government is going to press charges against the woman for abortion, it should also look into the accountability of government agencies that are mandated to take care of women’s health and who have opted instead to abandon government responsibility and duty where public health care is concerned. She said the failure of the Aquino administration to reduce maternal mortality justifies an immediate review of its health care policies.
“The Aquino government is killing poor Filipino women with its failure to deliver the much needed pro-poor and comprehensive health care services to women. Maternal deaths in Metro Manila alone in 2010 were caused by eclampsia, haemorrhage, medical complication and infection. These are easily preventable complications if only there are enough health care facilities with enough health care providers to deliver the much needed health care for the mothers and infant,” she said.
The 2011 report of Center for Women Resources (CWR) revealed that 90 million Filipinos are served by only 3,050 doctors, 4,600 nurses, and 16,800 midwives.
“The government needs to address the more fundamental questions of joblessness and poverty while making health services accessible and affordable to poor women who are the ones victimized by easily preventable complications that cause maternal deaths. This situation is further aggravated by the government’s continuing neglect of the health sector by passing the responsibility to private business through corporatizing of 26 major regional government hospitals.”
De Jesus said Gabriela continues to campaign for the passage of a reproductive health bill that will provide the Filipino women comprehensive health care.
“Its framework on women’s health goes way beyond the distribution of contraceptives to curb population growth. Enacting a health policy that will help ensure women’s full access to health care will help prevent maternal mortality. But the government must also create programs that will provide for decent local jobs with living wages so the families will have enough income to spend for their health,” she said.
Increase in maternal deaths
In a related development, Gabriela led a protest action in front of the Department of Health (DOH) in Manila to condemn the Aquino administration’s plan to privatize all remaining public hospitals in the country, beginning with 26 public hospitals.
The group’s deputy secretary-general Joms Salvador said there is a direct link between the privatization of public health and the sudden rise in maternal deaths during the past two years of his presidency.
Maternal health care advocates have recently charged that the government’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition (MNCHN) grant program has not been very effective because it has resulted in uneven and non-standardized provision of services such as instructions on family planning and the different methods. It was also revealed that the 2011 Family Health Survey showed that between 2006 and 2011, the maternal and mortality rate (MMR) increased from 162 to 221.
This means that the number of Filipino mothers who died during child delivery had risen from 162 in 2009 to 221 in 2011 per 100,000 live births. This was despite infusions of millions of loans and grants from the Millennium Development Goal that targets bringing down MMR to only 55 deaths by 2015.
Ban against home births
In the meantime, Gabriela also scored what it said was the “irresponsible and inappropriate response” of both the DOH and local government units in legislating local ordinances that would penalize traditional birth attendants from providing home birth services for mothers who cannot afford the expensive care of distant lying-in clinics.
“President Aquino and the DOH are selling off hospitals to rich investors, ordering clinics to charge exorbitant fees from birthing mothers, and yet it has the gall to blame our traditional birth attendants for causing birth-related illnesses and death. Whichever way you look at it, it’s plain and simple state abandonment of its duty to ensure that its citizens are healthy and alive, and that is terribly wrong,” Salvador said.
Bolstering Gabriela’s accusation on state abandonment of public health, government health workers have also linked maternal deaths to drastic cuts in health workers’ benefits, retrenchment of personnel, and closure of life-saving health projects under the Aquino government’s public-private partnership scheme in the health sector, the Kalusugan Pangkalahatan (Health for All) program.
Less public health workers and staff, the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) has previously warned , translates to poorer pre-natal, birthing and post-natal care.
“This is really an insane death sentence for millions of women who can barely cope with the crisis of unemployment, poverty and rising cost of living. Considering also that health centers are sparse and usually far from most communities, how can we force women to travel across dangerous potholed roads to avail of expensive and inaccessible hospital care that the DOH is recommending?” Salvador said.
Salvador said the Gabriela chapter in Iloilo has relayed reports that DOH inspectors are making the rounds in villages advising traditional birth attendants to stop providing care to women who seek them on the pain of penalties. In Bacolod, local government councilors are pushing for a ban on home child deliveries.
“The DOH should halt its privatization schemes if it really wants to meet the MDG of reduced mortality, aside from increasing the hiring of nurses and midwives, provision of grassroots based education on maternal health, and skills building among traditional birth attendants to upgrade their knowledge on preventing the common causes of pregnancy-related complications,” Salvador said.