Full implementation of RH law asked: PH losses P328-B yearly on teenage pregnancies

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By Addie Pobre 

WITH the alarming rise in the number of teenage pregnancies and childhood undernutrition, government officials are calling for the full implementation of the reproductive health (RH) law.

Cecilia Acuin, chief science research specialist at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute-Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST), reported how teenage mothers are vulnerable to many problems and how early pregnancies eventually affect a child’s growth.

The latest government report on the implementation of the RH law cited the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey, which revealed that one in 10 adolescent girls 15 to 19 years old is either already a mother or pregnant with her first child.

The recent Save the Children report, meanwhile, revealed that the Philippines is losing at least P328 billion a year due to the impact of childhood stunting on education and workforce productivity.

On teenage pregnancies’ health risk, statistics are glaring: Acuin said about 25% of mothers are nutritionally-at-risk during pregnancy, but the figure increases to 40% for teenage mothers, because a teenager's nutritional requirements are already very high.

"Once you start menstruating, you can get pregnant, but that doesn't mean that you are ready to become a mother," she said last August during the launch of the latest Cost of Hunger in the Philippines report by non-governmental organization Save the Children.

"When you're pregnant, the nutrients get preferentially shunted to the baby, so if you're a growing mom yourself, that means the cost of your own nutrition, so that's why it would be really better if a teen girl waits until she is probably already working and socially stable before she starts having children because kawawa siya, kawawa rin 'yung bata (the mother suffers, and the baby suffers too)" she continued.

“They're dependent on extended family to provide resources. And very often, they're usually not married, or the husband is not in a position to provide support, so they are more likely not to come for prenatal care, they are more likely not to deliver in facilities. So they're getting more and more complicated health and nutrition problems," she said.

Ella Naliponguit, director of the Department of Education's Health and Nutrition Center, added that teenage parents are also not emotionally ready to raise a baby.

The physical, economical, and emotional unpreparedness are crucial factors critically affecting a child’s nutrition. 

"So do expect that teenage pregnancy is the reason [why] children of teenage pregnancies also would have a lot of issues when it comes to nutrition because the parents are not prepared," she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Latest Initiatives on RH Law

Acuin is one of the RH advocates urging the government to fully implement the reproductive health (RH) law, considering the rising level of teenage pregnancies in the country.

"Kaya tied up ito sa implementation ng ating reproductive health [law]…. Kasi siyempre bawat local government may kanya-kanyang authority over their area, and many local governments...do some gatekeeping in terms of providing services for teens, and for reproductive health. So dahil doon, hindi pare-pareho," Acuin lamented.

But despite government officials’ call for the full implementation of RH law, it is still nowhere near enforcement as the Supreme Court ordered last September 13 not to lift the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on government-procured contraceptive implants.

The Supreme Court ordered the Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct a fresh round of certifications in connection with the government’s procurement of contraceptives after both agencies accepted a sizable donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation without following the guidelines set by the high tribunal.

The SC ruling issued on Aug. 24 means the 400,000 subdermal contraceptive implants—including Implanon and Implanon NXT, supposedly the most effective forms of birth control—that former Health Secretary Janet Garin had procured at P500 each, or one-tenth of the P5,000 market price with the help of the Gates’ foundation, would remain in government warehouses unless the DOH and FDA can convince anti-abortion groups they are not abortifacients.

Implanon

Implanon is a new implantable hormonal contraceptive for women.

Implanon is a thin, matchstick-sized rod, called an implant. The implant is made of soft, plastic-like material and contains progestin. It is inserted beneath the skin of the arm and a very small amount of the hormone is released continuously to prevent pregnancy. It is effective for up to three years.

According to Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Vice President for Medical Affairs Vanessa Cullins, MD, MPH, “This method is great news for women who want long-term, reversible birth control and the freedom of not having to remember a pill every day. Planned Parenthood applauds this addition to the array of contraceptive choices for women.”

Reactions

Forum for Family Planning and Development, a group of Reproductive Health (RH) advocates, has expressed disappointment over the decision of the Supreme Court to extend the temporary restraining order on contraceptive implants.

“We lament the decision of the Supreme Court to extend the TRO on implants. This decision sets back the full implementation of the RH Law despite the call of the President of the Republic for its full implementation when he delivered his very first State of the Nation Address” said Benjamin De Leon, FFPD President.

The group lamented that these barriers and oppositions have great cost to poor women and couples.

“We cannot emphasize enough the fact that it is our poor women and couples who are burdened by the effects of such barriers and opposition. Every day that this TRO is in effect, hundreds of women remain at risk from health issues that are otherwise easily preventable. When would be the right time lift the TRO? When more poor women are dead?” added De Leon in a statement

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, meanwhile, believes that the Supreme Court decision not to lift the temporary restraining order on contraceptive implants is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Bad news is better than no news,” she said. “They have been silent about the TRO for more than a year, and we’ve been filing our petitions for the lifting in several instances with the help of the solicitor general.”

Ubial said DOH lawyers will study the decision so they would know the next steps to take. (With reports from Rappler and PDI)