Health services for Filipino women and girls need to be improved, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which pointed out the “dire state” of the healthcare system in rural areas. 

“I intend to continue to sound the alarm that the Philippines needs resources and attention to people who must not be forgotten as new crises and new world affairs occur,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA executive director and UN undersecretary general, at a press conference on Monday at the University of the Philippines Diliman.  

Access to medical assistance in Visayas and Mindanao has been hampered by the pandemic and Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai), which struck central and southern parts of the Philippines in December and caused P13.3 billion in agriculture damage. 

The Philippines ranked eighth in a 2021 disaster index, which highlights the increased risk that both government and civil society organizations must consider in their relief efforts. 

In a recent visit to affected communities in Tacloban, UNFPA reaffirmed growing cause for concern in the country, with “layer upon layer of risks facing millions of vulnerable people and, in particular, women and girls.”  

From victims of the typhoon alone, the agency found that over 4 million are women of reproductive age, with one-fourth of them being pregnant.  

“[The pregnant women in the community] sat in a circle with us and every single person who spoke — from the very first sentence, tears came to their eyes because, three months later, they’re still struggling to make sense of what is going to happen to them,” said Dr. Kanem.  

UNFPA Philippines country representative Leila S. Joudane added that they stepped in to provide family planning supplies after the typhoon flattened mobile health services in the region.  

The agency supports Women’s Health on Wheels, a local project in Leyte that provides resources for pregnant women.  

The UN previously set a goal of achieving three zeroes on maternal mortality, gender violence, and unmet need for family planning by 2030, in line with the sustainable development goals concerning women.  

Both the pandemic and the typhoon have unfortunately slowed down the country’s pace in terms of these goals, according to UNFPA.  

“The pandemic has been a big setback in terms of 2030 but it cannot become an excuse for us to give up on the understanding that inequality is at the root of a lot of the difficulties that we face in the world today,” Dr. Kanem said.  

Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health law, for example, supports women’s rights and protects adolescents from early pregnancy. However, it needs stricter implementation.  

She added: “When you look after women and girls, the men benefit, the society benefits, and the economy benefits.” — Brontë H. Lacsamana