March 4, 2013
The Department of Health reported that the country’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) rose to 221 per 100,000 live births from 162 in 2009. The figure tells of a glaring failure of the government in attaining its Millennium Development Goal target of reducing maternal mortality to only 52 per 100,000 live births by 2015.
Amidst this failure, the government implements the “No Home Birthing Policy” as an answer to the soaring number of maternal and infant deaths. It blames the rise in MMR to home births unsupervised by skilled health professionals. The policy states that all pregnant women should give birth only in hospitals and lying-in centers. Midwives are no longer allowed to deliver babies in homes. Instead, DOH has encouraged nurses and midwives to put up lying-in centers.
Grace Cuasay, a registered midwife and director of Health, Education, Training and Services department of the Council for Health Development expressed concern saying that the policy will, on the contrary, increase maternal and neonatal mortality. Cuasay said that pregnant women, especially those living in remote rural areas, will be further burdened by the “No Home Birthing Policy” because public birthing facilities are scarce and very far. One has to walk for hours and spend much for transportation to reach the nearest birthing facility. The policy will push pregnant mothers to the wall and will increase the incidence of unsafe deliveries that can lead to death.
“Reports coming from our member community-based health programs in the provinces revealed that the lives of pregnant women are placed in great dangers because of the new policy. In Nueva Ecija, a woman about to give birth walked and crossed a river to the get to the nearest birthing facility. She and her child died before reaching the nearest birthing station. In Iloilo, a Basic Emergency Obstetric Care (BEMONC) facility serves 45 barangays and pregnant women have to travel three days to reach this birthing station,” furthered Cuasay.
According to the Council for Health and Development, maternal and infant mortality will continue to rise if the present situation persists. Only 17,000 of the country’s total 41,000 barangays (41 percent) have government established health stations which are often ill-equipped with facilities, medicines and staff. There is only one barangay midwife who services three to five barangays (1 midwife: 6,578 populations). Cuasay furthered that to decisively address the problem, the government should first admit to itself that home delivery is not the primary reason why maternal mortality is high. A significant decrease in maternal mortality rate is impossible to achieve in a reactive public health care system that loyally subscribes to foreign-influenced program like the “no home birthing policy.”
In conclusion, Cuasay called on the government to: (1) provide more doctors, nurses and midwives in rural communities, until the WHO-prescribed ratio of 1 midwife:500 population is met, (2) hilots or traditional birth attendants should also be seen as a complement to public health workers in the rural setting and should be provided trainings and tools for more effective and efficient provision of basic health service; (3) strengthen the public health care system; (4) stop the privatization of public hospitals; and, (5) allot 5% of the gross domestic product or P575B to health.”##
Grace Cuasay, RM – 09062431266 / (+632) 929-8109
Director of Health, Education, Training and Services COUNCIL FOR HEALTH AND DVELOPMENT