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Contraceptives save women's lives

A new report from the Guttmacher Institute and the University of the Philippines Population Institute reveals that low levels of contraceptive use in the Philippines result in high rates of unintended pregnancy and a broad range of negative consequences for women, their families and the national health care system.

According to the report, three in 10 Filipino women are at risk for unintended pregnancy – that is, women who are sexually active and able to have children, but who do not want a child in the next two years or at all – use no contraception; another two in 10 use traditional methods. More than half of the Philippines’ 3.4 million annual pregnancies are unintended, and 92 percent of these occur to women who either use no method or use a traditional one.

The report continues that expanding access to contraception could result in 800,000 fewer unplanned births, 500,000 fewer induced abortions, and 200,000 fewer miscarriages. What’s more, it could prevent as many as 2,100 maternal deaths each year – nearly half of all deaths from pregnancy-related causes.

Better access to contraceptive services could also save 120,000 productive years of women’s lives, years that are currently lost to ill-health resulting from unintended pregnancies.

How does investing in contraceptive services save money? This question was answered by Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, who is in Manila to launch the study titled, “Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Filipino Women.” Although the initial expense of providing contraception to all women in need may seem great, the costs associated with unintended pregnancies, including treating the consequences of unsafe abortion, are much higher,” she said.

The study finds that providing modern contraceptive services to all women at risk of unintended pregnancy in the Philippines would raise annual family planning costs from P1.9 billion to P4 billion. However, the report says, the medical costs associated with unintended pregnancy would fall from P3.5 billion to P600 million, resulting in savings of P2.9 billion. These savings could be used to improve and expand a range of health and social services.

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The report notes that fulfilling the demand for contraceptives “would particularly benefit poor women, who represent the largest segment of women with unmet contraceptive needs. The 35 percent of Filipino women aged 15-49 who are poor, account for 53 percent of the unmet need for contraception.

Dr, Josefina V. Cabigon, study co-author who is a professor at the UP Population Institute, said that increasing contraceptive use will require increased investment in contraceptive supplies and services from both international donors and the Philippine government. But this investment, she said, “is especially critical to improving the health of poor women who face the greatest barriers in achieving the family size they desire. Ensuring contraceptive access is not only wise fiscal policy; it would have a profound effect in improving public health.”

The study launch was sponsored by The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc. (The FORUM), whose president, Ben de Leon, said that without contraceptive use in the Philippines, there would be 1.3 million more unplanned births, 0.9 million more induced abortions, and 3,500 more maternal deaths each year. 

The results of the study bolster the claim of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, author of the Reproductive Health and Development Bill that is pending in Congress, that family planning saves women’s lives. There are three reasons why the bill should pass – the 2,100 maternal deaths that could be prevented; the 200,000 infant mortality rate that could be avoided, and the 800,000 unintended pregnancies that could be avoided.

Congressman Lagman, who is asked everywhere about Malacanang’s vetoing the bill once it is passed in Congress, said that the President in her last State of the Nation address, said her option is for natural family planning. “She did not say that Congress should not legislate family planning.” The thing to do, he said, is for as many people there are to express their view in favor of family planning; this will tell the President and Congress their constituents’ need for reproductive health information and access to family planning methods.

Dr. Junice Lirza D. Melgar, head of LIHAAN, a women’s reproductive health advocacy, said that promoting contraceptive use does not only prevent maternal deaths, and results in social-economic benefits, but also “because it is the moral thing to do.”

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I received many email messages thanking me for writing about the late Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez. A couple of readers corrected me about the day Manny was near-fatally ambushed: the date was July 2, 1982, not July 2, 1992, as I had written. 

One of the most touching tributes for Manny came from Leonardo G. Fugoso Jr., who wrote: “I enjoyed your article on Ambassador Pelaez. I met him and his wife once and I was amazed at his humility and love for his wife. I am a neurologist. I used to head the Movement Disorders Center at St. Luke’s Medical Center. . . A few years back, I received a call that Mrs. Pelaez was at Makati Med and the ambassador asked if I can check on Mrs. Pelaez. I asked my secretary to call back and tell the family that I was not affiliated with Makati Med and could not possibly see her there. A few hours later, Ambassador Pelaez himself called me on the phone. I was surprised that he called me directly and not even through a staff or underling. He gently asked me to please, see his wife. I was struck that this great man called me directly and practically pleaded to me to see Mrs. Pelaez. There was no way I would refuse him. . . I saw his wife the following day at Makati Med. When I got there and introduced myself, the ambassador ushered me into the suite’s living room, asked me to sit, and he opened a can of Coke for me and poured it himself! I will never forget that scene. I will never forget his humility and his love for his wife. When he passed away, I was saddened that the Philippines had lost a great leader. I often wonder how our country would have been if Ferdy and Imelda did not steal that convention and Mr. Pelaez ended up as our president. Perhaps we Filipinos were never destined to have such a great man lead us. Sayang . . . . .”

My email:dominimt2000@yahoo.com

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