Delegates and health experts from Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries outlined several strategies borne out of a two-day meeting in Manila last October for improving the health of mothers in the region.

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

“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,” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for International Economic Relations Laura del Rosario, according to a news release of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

She added this concern is not only complex and multi-dimensional but also personal “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.”

Recommendations of AICHR Manila meeting

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 in the ASEAN region.

Present during the two-day conference were 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 Manalo is the Philippine representative to the AICHR.

During the meeting at the Hyatt Hotel in Manila on Oct. 14 and 15, there were calls for:

  •     increasing budget allocations for health, and ensuring proper tracking of funds and investments on reproductive health
  •     promoting compliance with international human rights treaties
  •     coordinating between relevant government agencies to address maternal health
  •     introducing new legislation and amending existing legislation to promote maternal health and reproductive health
  •     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
  •     ensuring the collection of relevant, timely and disaggregated data on maternal health

Maternal deaths unacceptable

For his part, Health Secretary Enrique Ona said mothers’ roles as the “ilaw ng tahanan” (light of our homes) makes maternal death, especially during childbirth as totally unacceptable.

“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.

Ona also said the government kept providing assistance to local governments in the form of grants, commodities and equipment to improve service delivery especially in far-flung areas.

It also deployed close to 10,000 registered nurses through the RNheals Program to help provide adequate health care to areas neglected in the past.

He said the government will soon deploy 40,000 community health teams to deliver important health information, counseling and health services to the homes of these families.

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.

Among the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to address global development challenges by 2015 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. —MRT, GMA News