Coronavirus lockdown could lead to 214,000 extra babies in the Philippines | Philippines

The Philippines’ strictly enforced coronavirus lockdown has severely disrupted access to family planning services and could lead to the highest number of births in the country in two decades, it has been warned.

Movement restrictions imposed in March prevented both patients and medical staff from reaching clinics for months, and are now causing shortages of condoms and other contraceptives in some areas, according to health workers.

Nandy Senoc, executive director of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines said that while his staff continued operating throughout the lockdown, all work has been negatively impacted. Government facilities officially remained open, he added, but in reality services were inaccessible.

The Catholic-majority country has recorded more than 35,400 coronavirus cases, with the national capital region, Metro Manila, the hardest hit. In total, 1,244 deaths have been recorded.

Though quarantine measures have since been eased, public transport remains disrupted, and some family planning facilities are open only with skeletal staffing, to allow space for social distancing.

There are also continued shortages of condoms and contraceptive pills, especially in island provinces and rural areas far from the capital.

FPOP is encouraging women to take long-acting contraception, he added, and its clinics are giving out bigger supplies of the pill, in case movement restrictions are reimposed.

“But the problem with this is we are running short of supplies now,” he said.

“Reproductive health services are not considered a priority in the government response.”

It is estimated that the number of women unable to access family planning rose by one fifth during lockdown, to 3,688,000.

The projections, by the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), suggest that an additional 214,000 babies could be born next year as a result of unplanned pregnancies caused by the pandemic.

This means there could be up to almost 1.9 million births in 2021, more than in any year since 2000.

“We will be the ones delivering these babies in nine months time,” said Dr Esmeraldo Ilem, director of the Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila, the country’s busiest maternity ward. Outpatient numbers at his hospital’s family planning clinic have also fallen rapidly over recent months, he said.

In La Union province, in northern Philippines, Rocelle Casilla, a doctor at a rural health hospital, said that some of her patients had also been forced to go without protection.

“Women here prefer the injectable contraceptives, which protect them for three months. Many of those who were due for new injections in April, during the hard lockdown, only came to us this month,” she said.

There is growing concern over the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on family planning services globally, with UNFPA predicting as many as 7 million unintended pregnancies could occur worldwide as a result of the crisis.

Activists have also raised alarm over increases in domestic violence around the world, in countries ranging from Brazil to Germany, Italy to China.

People stuck at home in an abusive environment may not have control over their sexual health said Tomoko Fukuda, the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s regional director for east, southeast Asia and Oceania.

“Being confined to the home and not being able to go out, that affects a lot of things, in terms of women’s decision making,” she said.

Marie Stopes International has warned of millions unsafe abortions globally and thousands of additional maternal deaths. In the Philippines, it’s against the law to end a pregnancy.

Mona Liza Diones, Chapter Program Manager for FPOP in Iloilo, in central Philippines, said her staff had seen 20 women in their first trimester over the past week, compared to five or six pre-lockdown.

It is not clear if this reflects a rise in pregnancies, or if women who had previously stayed home are now seeking medical care.

Diones and other staff provided advice online and travelled door-to-door to give treatments during quarantine.

Though restrictions have been eased, supplies of protective equipment for staff are low, she said, as are commodities and medicine. There are no condoms left.

“Before the lockdown we had the buffer supplies but we soon ran out of that. Our supplies come from Manila and we are in the province, so there are no flights coming in and out,” she said.

If disruption to international shipping and flights continues, added Fukuda, it’s likely that supply problems will become a greater concern from July onwards.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/coronavirus-lockdown-could-lead-to-214000-extra-babies-in-the-philippines