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EU incentive on improvements to reproductive health in the Philippines

Earlier this month a delegation from various United Nations (UN) agencies, including representatives from the Development Program (UNDP) and the Children’s Fund (UNICEF), visited the Philippines.

The delegates were principally in the country to look at local poverty-relief initiatives. However, some of the UN officials used the visit as an opportunity to express concern about the lack of reproductive health services and information for women in the Philippines, particularly the poorest. According to the UN, this is a key factor in the high number of maternal deaths in the country, where 11 women die each day giving birth.

The Philippines government is debating a new reproductive health bill which seeks to improve sex education and access to information about contraception. Despite the approval of most citizens (7 in 10 Filipinos support the bill), the proposals face strong opposition from the Catholic Church. Now the European Union (EU) has weighed into the debate, believing the passing of the bill into law would improve women’s health and help to reduce poverty by slowing population growth. The EU is therefore offering a package of 50 million dollars to the Philippines. This money would support reforms to the health system arising from the passing of the bill. The money would especially be targeted at raising contraception usage among low-income families.

The head of the EU’s delegation office in Manila spoke of the EU’s commitment to family planning and the “reproductive health rights” of women. Nicholas Taylor, was reported by Reuters to express the EU’s view that a legal framework is needed to provide the necessary health support “much more effectively”.

President Benigno Aquino is in favour of the reproductive health bill, although the measure was not included in a list of priority bills submitted to Congress last month. However, the EU hopes that the promise of funding, which would start in 2011 and last till 2014, will help persuade politicians to back the bill. By providing financial assistance, some of which would be used to buy equipment and contraceptive supplies, the EU hopes to raise the number of women using family planning to over 50 per cent by 2013 and possibly up to 80 per cent by 2015.

As one UN spokeswoman put it, “global evidence shows by putting in place a Reproductive Health policy...countries are doing better” and she added, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

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