Amid the steady spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines, the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), together with local government units (LGUs), remain committed to their advocacy in ensuring uninterrupted rollout and access of reproductive rights, particularly on family planning services.
As the country’s lead population management agency, POPCOM continues to rally behind the local medical community at the grassroots level, including the 11,000-strong barangay health workers and barangay population volunteers.
The commission considers these frontline workers as “the unsung heroes of family health and wellbeing” as they maintain the delivery of the usual basic health services in the face of an ongoing pandemic.
In the city of Taguig, for instance, family planning commodities such as pills and condoms are being delivered house-to-house, along with maintenance medicines for hypertension and diabetes, according to Medical Officer III Dr. Maria Criselda Flores.
As the family planning (FP) coordinator of the Taguig City Health Office, Dr. Flores maintained that family planning, more than ever, “should continue despite the situation, because women need uninterrupted access to family planning methods to prevent unintended pregnancies.”
These “unplanned” incidences, she said, are most likely to arise as the expanded community quarantine (ECQ) forces couples to spend more time with each other indoors.
Another FP coordinator, Medical Officer V Dr. Angelica E. Arciaga from Muntinlupa City’s Putatan Health Center-Reproductive Health Clinic, echoed Dr. Flores’ sentiments.
“We have no idea as to when the situation with COVID-19 will turn for the better. What if it lasts longer, and users of modern FP methods like injectables miss their regular shots within the three-month effectivity period? It will only render the past family planning efforts of the woman as useless. As such, the purpose of family planning will be defeated; our past investments, futile,” Arciaga said.
Since POPCOM’s earlier announcement that family planning demand generation will carry on amid the present health crisis, many have actively sought commodities, especially the financially challenged.Take the case of Ellen (not her real name), mother of two, who lost her job because of the ECQ. She said in Filipino: “I was easily able to avail free family planning supplies in our health center. Since I am highly fertile, the pills will be of great help to ensure that the number of my children will remain the same.”
Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH said these accounts only encourage POPCOM to persist with their family-planning service delivery, despite the current challenges.
“At the minimum, there are about 2 million Filipino users of pills and condoms. We are looking at serving them in the next three months, so we can ensure our family planning programs are still in place, and that no unintended pregnancies happen while the pandemic rages on,” Perez said.
“These heroic efforts on the part of our family planning workers only embolden us to serve our countrymen and contribute positively in addressing the multidimensional repercussions of this health crisis. All the more that we have to elevate our service delivery in these times, when saving lives is also as important as preserving their quality, especially of the poor who are most affected,” he added.
Perez reiterated the agency’s call to LGUs to attend to the reproductive rights of its constituents at this critical time by ensuring access of couples and individuals—especially among the poor and in remote areas—to reproductive health services.
“While the COVID-19 crisis calls for urgent responses, family planning, as well as maternal health of women and couples, are also key concerns that may have lasting repercussions if neglected,” he said.
The POPCOM executive director confirmed that, while pills and condoms may be delivered to households, other modern family planning methods such as injectables, implants and intrauterine devices or IUDs may still be availed in health centers.
For its part, the agency has opened its POPCOM Family Wellness Clinic at Welfareville Compound in Mandaluyong City for uninterrupted provision of services.
Those wanting to avail of vasectomies and bilateral tubal ligations may have to wait though, as medical resources for these services are currently allocated to address COVID-19 situations. They are advised to use alternative modern family planning methods previously mentioned.
According to the POPCOM chief, various channels such as the hotlines (02) 8531-6897, (02) 8782-9284, (0917) 597-0070 and (0998) 865-2810; as well as its Facebook pages Commission on Population and Development and @UsapTayoSaFP continue to accommodate clients from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays to Fridays.
Those in the provinces may proceed to their nearest health centers for more information and to avail of family-planning commodities.
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