Women Deliver Philippines, the country's first-ever localization of the global initiative that started in London, brings to spotlight the tragic deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth, and of newborns dying during their first month of life to mobilize investment for the improvement of maternal and newborn health. “Women Deliver Philippines,” held from Sept 15 to 17, gathered 365 participants from around the country and the world, from 205 agencies, and drew 106 resource persons. They spoke on a wide range of issues from young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services to the role of midwives; from maternal mortality and human rights to interfaith initiatives on safe motherhood; from investing financial, material and human resources toward attaining MDGs 4 and 5 to exercising effective leadership and country commitment to meeting these same goals.
The issue becomes more urgent now as the latest government report on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) show that the Philippines' target to reduce maternal deaths is least likely to be achieved by 2015. Every day, eleven mothers die in the Philippines due to preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth.
Speakers from government, private and civil society organizations, including regional development leaders, gathered for the conference, to generate political commitment, and share solutions that can prevent maternal and newborn deaths and disabilities.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona delivered a keynote speech on the formal opening of the conference, which was attended by dignitaries from the Australian government, the European Union (EU) and the UN – led by UN Resident Coordinator Jacqueline Badcock and UNFPA Regional Director Nobuko Horibe. Ona acknowledged that the solutions needed to improve maternal health and newborn survival “do not involve rocket science,” although he acknowledged that these “require political commitment at the highest levels.” Ona declared his determination to “make women’s health a priority,” and noted that MDGs 4 and 5 will be “the centerpiece of health system reform.” Almost half or 44.1 percent of the national budget for 2011 of P1.65 trillion, the secretary said, will be devoted to strengthening social services, including health. “We cannot just stand by and watch mothers die, along with their babies,” he said.
Closing the conference, Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde hailed Women Deliver as “timely, hopeful and relevant,” reminding everyone that “maternal health is preventable” and that in the effort to prevent mothers dying from pregnancy and childbirth, “there are no outsiders, only partners.” The national government’s commitment to promoting reproductive health was further underscored by Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, a resource person at the last plenary discussion. The Aquino administration, she said, was committed to “promoting responsible parenthood, which includes providing information on all forms of family planning methods. “Choice and access,” said Soliman, constituted the keystone of the Aquino government’s policy, reiterating the administration’s support for the pending reproductive health bills, an announcement that was met with applause by the audience.
Women Deliver Philippines was organized by the Department of Health, the UN and Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, with support from the EU. Dr. Junice Melgar, executive director of the NGO Likhaan which headed the conference secretariat, said one of the conference goals was to “re-energize” the reproductive health community in its efforts to save the lives of women and children.
The first global Women Deliver conference was held in London in 2007 to mark the 20th year of the Safe Motherhood Initiative (SMI) launched in 1987 seeking to address the tragedy of half-a-million women dying during pregnancy and childbirth. The second Women Deliver conference was held in Washington, DC in 2010.