17 October 2011 – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Human Rights Conference on Promoting Maternal Health laid out several recommendations to improve maternal health in the region during its two-day meeting at the Hyatt Hotel in Manila on October 14 and 15.

The recommendations covered measures on improving financing, governance, regulations, service delivery, monitoring systems and the significant role of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in promoting the human rights of women and children.

There were calls to increase budget allocation for health and ensure proper tracking of funds and investments on reproductive health, promotion of compliance with international human rights treaties, coordination between relevant government agencies to address maternal health, introduction of new legislation and amending existing legislation to promote maternal health and reproductive health, and ensuring access to effective remedies when women’s reproductive rights have been violated.

Other recommendations include ensuring women’s right to safe pregnancy and affordable access to family planning services and adequate obstetric care, adopting measures to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity among young girls, ensure equitable distribution of health workers and the provision of adequate and continuous professional training for these workers, supporting exchange of skills in maternal and reproductive health, and ensuring the collection of relevant, timely and disaggregated data on maternal health.

These were in line with the statements made during the opening ceremonies that fulfilling the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on improving maternal health poses a challenges to some ASEAN countries and the need to improve the current status.

“Although most ASEAN countries have shown a significant decline in the maternal mortality rate since 1990, a significant gap still exists– both globally and regionally, between those that have achieved a significant decline in the maternal mortality rate and those doing so. There is a need therefore to develop strategies on how to reduce this gap and enhance the quality of maternal health in the region,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for International Economic Relations Laura Q. Del Rosario said in her welcome remarks.

“This concern is not only complex and multi-dimensional but also personal for all of us because it is about the well-being of any of the important people in our life: a mother, a sister, a friend, a relative, or a wife,” she added.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona noted that the role of mothers as the carriers of life or what is called in Filipino as “ilaw ng tahanan” (light of our homes) makes maternal death, especially during childbirth as totally unacceptable, and highlighted several measures done by the Philippine Government on addressing maternal health.

“We have scaled up our efforts in reducing the inequalities in health in pursuit of MDG 5 [improving maternal health].  This past month, we have enrolled 5.2 million poorest families which have been neglected in the past into our National Health Insurance Program or PhilHealth.  Their PhilHealth membership will allow them to access essential health service in government and even private health facilities,” he said.

“Likewise, we have continued providing assistance to our local governments in the form of grants, commodities and equipment to improve service delivery especially in far-flug areas.  We have deployed closed to 10,000 registered nurses through the RNheals Program to help in providing adequate health care to areas  which have been neglected in the past and we will be deploying 40,000 community health teams to deliver important health information, counselling and actual health services right at the living rooms of these families,” Secretary Ona added.

The UN estimated that around 350,000 women die every year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. In 2008, some 18,000 of these deaths were in Southeast Asia.

The two-day Conference aimed to start the development of ASEAN best practices and regional approaches on reducing maternal mortality and morbidity, and ensuring maternal health for the ASEAN region.

The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are targets set by the UN to address eight global development challenges by 2015.

The MDGs include: (1) eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote gender equality and empower women; (4) reduce child mortality; (5) improve maternal health; (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensure environmental sustainability, and (8) develop a global partnership for development.

Among these goals is the improvement of maternal health, which underscores the significance of the provision of quality reproductive health care services to help reduce the maternal mortality rate.

Present during the two-day Conference are Representatives of ASEAN Member States to the AICHR, experts on maternal health from ASEAN Member States, experts from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and Asia-Pacific experts on maternal health. Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo is the Philippine Representative to the AICHR.

The two-day Conference is being organized by the Department of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the Department of Health (DOH), EnGendeRights, Inc., and the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health.