by Jee Y. GeronimoPosted on 01/23/2014 2:51 PM | Updated 01/23/2014 8:37 PM
PIONEER. Former UNFPA Executive Director Nafis Sadik says the agenda on reproductive and sexual and health rights must move forward and faster in the Asia Pacific region. Photo by Jee Geronimo/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – As abortion and HIV cases in the Philippines continue to rise, local and international leaders look to the reproductive health (RH) law as the life saver of thousands of women and young people – except that it's been stalled by a restraining order from the Supreme Court.
During a session at the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR) Thursday, January 23, Likhaan director and co-founder Junice Melgar said the country has perhaps the highest abortion rates in Asia.
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About 200,000 Filipino teenage girls give birth yearly, she noted, with the numbers still rising.
The Philippines is also one of 3 countries in Asia where HIV is increasing, with an 820% increase in a span of 9 years – from 173 cases in 2001 to 1,591 cases in 2010.
The fate of RH law
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Enrique Ona said they consider reproductive and sexual health care as a critical element of primary health care.
“While the RH law is pending at the halls of the Supreme Court, the message is we should not derail the provision of appropriate services to women and men which can save their lives, regardless of their circumstances,” he told delegates of the 4-day conference on Wednesday.
This is why one of the department's goal is to increase to 85% the ante natal to post natal care visits, as well as the number of deliveries in health facilities and attended by skilled birth attendants by 2015.
The RH law was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012, but the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order against the law just 4 days after its implementing rules and regulations were approved by DOH.
UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Kate Gilmore even lauded the government for standing up for “sexual health and rights of women and young people, and, in doing so, finally saving lives” because of the landmark legislation.
She said they have seen in the Philippines some of the most exciting advances in the advocacy of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
“The community attending the conference...has great expectations for the new reproductive health legislation,” Gilmore added. (READ: 'Int'l RH conference a reminder to SC justices')
Former UNFPA Executive Director Nafis Sadik even called the Philippines “quite a pioneer” in supporting SRHR, even if difficulties were met at the policy level.
“Getting it (RH law) passed has taken a long time, but I hope that the law will finally go through the Supreme Court,” Sadik said.
Sadik was the secretary-general of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where 179 countries adopted a forward-looking, 20-year Programme of Action (PoA). The document recognized reproductive health and rights, women's empowerment, and gender equality as cornerstones of population and development programs.
Population: 100 million
Despite significant SRHR developments in the Philippines in recent years, Melgar said the challenges in the country remain structural, like the financing problems of the health system, as well as the strong Catholic church intervention against SRHR policies.
But many things were learned along the way:
- The President's political will is critical to SRHR policies
- SRHR has majority constituency
- Religious fundamentalists will always resist SRHR
- Science of SRHR must be emphasized
- Progressive religious practices and secularism must be supported
- SRH programs must challenge political and cultural systems
- Health system reforms must seriously address access, qualiy, and equity barriers