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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Couples in need of birth control information

By Yolanda Sotelo-Fuertes
Northern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 23:23:00 07/29/2008

MANGALDAN, Pangasinan, Philippines—Ricky Palaganas, 21, and his girlfriend, Renelyn Bateng-as, 20, have a seven-month old child and are about to get married.

Palaganas, a family driver, said they decided not to have another baby soon because of his small income but had no idea how to space their children.

Palaganas and Bateng-as are among the 16 percent of married couples in Pangasinan classified as having an "unmet need" for family planning.

"Unmet need" refers to a situation when spouses have reached the desired number of children and do not want to have more children or want to space their children but have no access to any method of family planning.

"We welcome the debates on the proposed reproductive health bill as cases like this and the couples' need to plan their families are surfacing," said provincial population officer Luz Muego.

While the Catholic Church rejected the bill, Muego said Church officials might not be aware that many local governments have been using part of their funds to buy contraceptives for their poor constituents.

She said that since 2005, local governments have been implementing the population program without support from the national government and without a clear policy to enforce it.

In July 2005, the Department of Health issued Administrative Order 158 asking local governments to provide family planning services and guaranteeing the availability of contraceptives in their areas.

The order was issued because the United States Agency for International Development stopped the supply of free family planning commodities, Muego said.

She said some local governments have been reluctant to implement the order because of shortage of funds.

But with the passage of the RH bill, she said the national government would have to finance the population program in the country.

Muego said she did not believe that the bill would open the floodgates to contraceptive use as feared by the Catholic Church.

But she said that "the poor will be more marginalized if the government will not provide them free contraceptives."

She said under the proposed bill, contraceptives would be considered under the category of "essential medicines and supplies," that would be included in the regular purchase of national and local hospitals and government health units.

Vicky Sotto, Mangaldan town population officer, said couples should space or limit the number of their children as multiple births put the health of women at risk.

She said couples undergoing marriage counseling in the town wanted to plan their families due to poverty.

"But I tell them that they should consider the woman's health. Every pregnancy and birth affects the woman's health and it could take two to three years for her to recover under normal conditions. How much more if the couple is poor and the woman has no access to proper nutrition?" she said.

Mangaldan has an ordinance allowing the town government to buy family planning commodities that are given free to indigent couples or sold to those who can afford them.