The Philippines, home to a population of over 110 million people as of 2021, is the seventh most populated country in Asia, and the second one in the ASEAN region (O’Neill, 2020). According to Worldometer, the growth of the country’s population increased by around 1 million from 2020 to 2021, and although statistics from Worldometer show that the percentage of growth decreased from 2.18% in the 2000s to 1.35% in 2020, the Philippines may still experience exponential growth in its population due to the numerous unplanned pregnancies occurring among its citizens.
President Rodrigo Duterte first announced and implemented enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila on March 16, 2020. Since then, over a year has passed and the country has cycled through various levels of community quarantine. Each level of quarantine differs in intensity, in that they limit the amount of people allowed to go out in varying degrees.
These lockdowns have caused women of reproductive age to experience an increase in unplanned pregnancies. Currently, 1 in 3 births in the country is unplanned or unintended. The pandemic and the subsequent quarantine of various areas in the Philippines has led to a decrease in access to family planning, proper women’s health care, and contraceptives (Johnson, H., Simonette, V., & Drury, F., 2020). Furthermore, nearly 80 percent of the Filipino population is Roman Catholic and thus largely adheres to religious conservative ideals against abortion and contraception. With abortion also being illegal in the country, anyone found guilty of either terminating a pregnancy or helping someone abort their child can be imprisoned for up to 6 years. Thus, women who are pregnant and do not plan to have children yet are left with no other choice but to give birth to their children.
The financial capacity to address maternal health related needs has also been affected by the crumbling economy. The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that about 4.2 million Filipinos lost their jobs during the pandemic, while 7.9 million employees received pay cuts (De Vera, 2021). The birth rate, on the other hand, is growing at an unprecedented rate. In 2020, an estimated total of two million pregnancies is expected to be recorded by the Commission on Population and Development. 10.7 percent of these pregnancies is said to be unplanned, while 178,000 of these pregnancies are among teenage women (CNN Philippines, 2020). POPCOMM also reported that the use of modern contraceptive methods among women declined by 2.2 percent during the lockdown. This means 400,000 women dropping out of family planning programs, thus increasing the likelihood of unplanned pregnancies.
Studies from both the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) show that a significant rise in maternal deaths may occur due to factors such as the presence of coronavirus along with a lack of attention and resources allocated to pregnant women and their babies. With the rise in unplanned pregnancies creating an increase in the number of expecting mothers, hospital wards are always full of women placed next to each other. This violates the social distancing rule and heightens the risk of both infection and death for the mothers and their newborns (Pierson & Aie Balagtas See, 2021).
Both women and children have been negatively affected. Babies born under these conditions are placed invariably at-risk and may not live long as a result, especially if many of them are born out of unplanned pregnancies. The lack of proper planning places both mother and child at a higher risk for malnutrition, illnesses, abuse, neglect, and even death since families may not be financially or emotionally stable enough to support them (World Health Organization: WHO, 2019). These vulnerabilities have only been exacerbated as the country continues to battle the pandemic under community quarantines. Access to health facilities for prenatal checkups and delivery has become more significantly strenuous due to “service disruption, difficulty in commuting, and the fear of contracting the virus”. Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines saw an average of 2,600 pregnancy and childbirth related deaths. These numbers rose by at least 26 percent in 2020 with approximately 617 additional deaths (Regala, 2020).
Furthermore, women exposed to these conditions also have a higher likelihood of dying, leading to more instances of motherlessness for newborn infants. Children who experience the loss of a parent will also be negatively influenced in multiple aspects, such as cognitive and emotional development. A study on motherless children claims that these individuals have a harder time and states that “maternal bonds that we all know are critical to emotional and cognitive development” (Wright, 2018). However, with the increased rates of maternal deaths, there is a higher chance that their children will be left to suffer without them. A child’s early life experience affects their future behaviours and even their bodies, specifically their organ systems and future health.
The alarming increase of violence related reports against women during the pandemic is also another issue aggravated by the lockdown. Before the pandemic, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported one in four Filipino women aged 15-49 that are subject to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Although reports declined by 25 percent in the early months of community quarantine, the Philippine Commission on Women believes that this can be attributed to the lack of access to public transportation, communication channels, and verbal and/or verbal threats.
The Philippines is focusing on the current spread of COVID-19 and lacks enough resources to allocate to maternal health and planned parenthood, hurting not only mothers, but also their children and their families. In order to prevent further damage to them as a whole, the government needs to increase the budget allocated towards maternal health, increase access to contraception and family planning, and educate the citizens on the current issue.
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