What change? Child rights advocates lament ailing health of Filipino children

The rate of prevalence of underweight children, with ages zero to five years old, remained unchanged at 20.2 percent in 2005 and 2011. The rate of prevalence of stunted growth increased from 33.1 percent in 2005 to 33.6 percent in 2011. The number of wasting children, also with ages zero to five, increased from 5.8 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2011.


MANILA – In the midst of scandals about billions worth of pork barrel funds involving lawmakers and “fake” non-government organizations, more children continue to suffer from malnutrition and deteriorating health.

“We are enraged over the alleged corruption in the use of pork barrel funds, which could have been allocated to social services, said Kharlo Felipe Manano, acting secretary general of Salinlahi Alliance of Children’s Concerns. Salinlahi is an alliance of organizations advocating for children’s rights in the Philippines.

He added, “Cases of misappropriation of funds and corruption are very alarming especially in the context of the diminishing government budget for health. The more than P10 billion ($229 million) that was allegedly scammed could have been put to good use by improving the health care system.”

In the group’s launch of their first Ulat Bulilit series last July 17, Salinlahi discussed the chronic state of Filipino children’s health and the government’s poor “prescriptions.”

“The chronic symptoms of ailing health of children have been alarming. For the past years, the health situation of majority of Filipino children has not improved despite President Aquino’s promise to bring about change in our country,” said Manano.

Chronic malnutrition

The chronic state of children’s health stems from the impoverished conditions of marginalized children and their families, Manano said. “Malnutrition plagues the lives of the young, making them more susceptible to disease and illness.”

Bulatlat.com file photo
Bulatlat.com file photo

Majority come from poor families. Manano said: 75 percent are peasants while 15 percent are workers, and nine percent are professionals. The rich comprise only one percent.

There are 25 provinces in the country with the highest percentage of chronic malnutrition, 15 of these, according to Manano, are the poorest provinces.

He said that in the past six years the prevalence of malnutrition has not changed. The rate of prevalence of underweight children, with ages zero to five years old, remained unchanged at 20.2 percent in 2005 and 2011. The rate of prevalence of stunted growth increased from 33.1 percent in 2005 to 33.6 percent in 2011. The number of wasting children, also with ages zero to five, increased from 5.8 percent in 2005 to 7.3 percent in 2011. That is why according to the data of Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), only one out of five children meets the Dietary Diversity Score or DDS. The DDS is an indicator of micronutrient intake.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), “Wasting, or low weight for height, is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five. It is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease.”

“Ideally, a child’s food intake should include four out of seven major food groups. But many children, mostly coming from poor families, are not able to meet that,” Manano told Bulatlat.com.

According to the 2011 National Nutritional Survey, only 48.9 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed. “This is still lower despite the FNRI report that exclusively breastfed infants (zero to five months old) have increased from 29.7 percent (in 2003) to 46.7 percent (in 2011). Infant malnutrition is linked to non-breastfeeding.” Manano stressed that infants should be exclusively breastfed from birth to six months and even onwards.

Ines Fernandez, executive director of Arugaan, a home centre organized by groups of working mothers majority of whom come from the urban poor, pointed out that through continuous breastfeeding beyond two years, children are able to get 40 percent of the nutrients that he or she gets in eating solid foods. “Even malnourished moms still produce breast milk with the same nutrients (as healthy mothers). It only dwindles in quantity but not the quality.”

According to Manano, a large percentage of women have stopped breastfeeding because of inadequate milk flow (32.40 percent) and because of work (20.3 percent).

Several studies have proven that breast milk protects infants from infections and boosts their immune system. Breast milk also prevents several childhood cancers like lymphoblastic leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and neuroblastoma, among others.

‘Neglected from the time of conception

The mother’s health condition is essential while conceiving. However, 11 pregnant women die every day from complications in pregnancy. Manano also cited the Unicef data that shows that 57,000 under-five deaths are recorded in 2011 from causes that are preventable.

“As we can see, children are being neglected from the time of conception. Mothers who are poor are not given free maternal health care. It is very important that mothers are well taken cared of while they are pregnant so that the baby inside the womb will also be healthy,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan.

Manano also cited the 2010 study of Aurora T. Reolalas and Ma. Goretti M. Novilla entitled Newborn Deaths in the Philippines, which concluded that “infant deaths stem from poor maternal health, inadequate care during pregnancy, inappropriate management of complications during pregnancy and delivery, poor hygiene during delivery and the first critical hours of birth and lack of newborn care.”

The study also noted that a woman’s status in society is a contributory factor to the probability of infant death, as well as to her nutritional status at the time of conception.

Wrong solution

Manano said children’s health is still being neglected under the Aquino administration. “The government is providing the wrong solution. The Aquino government’s policies do not help alleviate the dire health situation of children.”

Manano criticized the government’s dole-out program Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). He said the conditions being set by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) are not being met by many beneficiaries. “First, children of beneficiary families have to undergo medical check-up in health centers. But in the provinces, especially in far-flung areas, health centers are miles away from where the poorest people live. What is also glaring in our study is that the cash grants are being used by the beneficiaries to augment their budget for their daily needs like food. What can P1,000 ($22.2) a month buy? It’s not even enough for a family of five,” Manano said.

“Amid the poor health of majority of Filipino children, the government has been aggressively pushing for the corporatization of government hospitals, making health services costly for the majority. Many children die from diseases that are preventable like pneumonia because they do not have the money to see a doctor,” he added.

“Neoliberal policies, such as the corporatization of government hospitals and the CCT, only widen the gap between essential social services and children’s access to it.”

“It is important that we know the real situation of Filipino children so that we would know what steps to take,” said Jacqueline Ruiz, executive director of Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC). She said the problems confronting majority of Filipino children could not be addressed by dole out programs. “We should push the government to do something about it.”

And while progressive party-list groups, like the GWP, have been pushing for legislation that would address the poor health situation of majority of Filipino children, Ruiz said, the people’s collective action for the welfare of children is still very much needed.

“As legislators, we do not only make laws for the welfare of women and children but we also block laws that are against the interest of the people. However, the voice of the majority would be heard if we go to the streets and demand from the government measures to address the needs of our children,” Ilagan concluded. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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