Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
Last week, I wrote about the seven neophyte but gutsy women Representatives who make up the Soul Sisters in the House of Representatives. Together with their veteran colleagues, they work hard to have the reproductive health bill passed.
I also started to share the true stories of seven women who died because of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. I now continue with the rest of the stories.
Lourdes was a 28-year-old public school teacher from Guimbal, Iloilo. Her husband was a farmer. Even at the early stage of her second pregnancy, Lourdes’ husband already noticed her swollen cheeks and feet. Because of severe poverty, they could not have her see a doctor.
On her last month of pregnancy, family members kept noticing that Lourdes was pale and weak. Despite these and because they lacked money, they decided that Lourdes would deliver at home with the assistance of a “hilot.” Lourdes gave life to twins but she was bleeding.
The family wanted to rush her to the hospital but because they lived five kilometers away and there was no public transportation, it took long before they found a vehicle. By then Lourdes was already soaking in her own blood and having a convulsion. She died on February 27, 1985 without reaching the hospital. It was eclampsia. Two months after, one of her twins also died.
Joevelyn was a high school graduate from La Paz, Iloilo City. She came from a poor family and unemployed. After high school he had a live-in relationship with a 27-year-old seasonal construction worker. They lived in a shanty near a river. Because they were very poor, did not have floors. They only used carton as mattresses at nights.
Joevelyn got pregnant and could not go for pre-natal check-ups. She was unaware that she had a congenital heart disease and only knew about her condition during the last month of her pregnancy.
She was brought to the hospital when she started having labor pains but while they were waiting, she suffered a heart attack. She was rushed to the delivery room where she gave birth to a baby boy. Joevelyn, however, did not make it. She succumbed to cardiac arrest on 3 August 2008 at the age of 20.
Helen Gargaran – Jaro
Helen was a housewife from Guimbal, Iloilo whose husband was unemployed and only did whatever could earn for his family.
For her fourth pregnancy, they decided for her to give birth at home with a midwife in attendance. The husband gave Helen two thousand pesos for this. But because they had very little to go by, Helen used the money for other family needs.
She started having labor pains and after about an hour, her baby’s head was already protruding. Sadly, Helen no longer had strength to totally give birth to the baby. They decided to rush her to the hospital but because it was four in the morning, it took time before they found a vehicle.
With the baby’s head protruding, they reached the District hospital where the doctor declared the baby dead. Because the case was complicated and the hospital lacked the needed facilities, they were referred to the Western Visayas Medical Center (WVMC) in Iloilo City.
There, they discovered that Helen was diabetic and could not be operated on. The doctors had to find ways to remove the dead baby from Helen. She stayed at the hospital for several days before going home.
At home, Helen’s husband noticed that her tummy was getting bigger and she could not eat. She lost a lot of weight but her tummy continued to get bigger. She was also very pale and weak and had pus oozing from her vagina. A doctor told them to bring her to the hospital.
Again, they were referred to a private hospital but because they had no money, they decided to stay at the public hospital. Helen’s condition deteriorated. She was bleeding and secreting pus almost non-stop before she died on October 23, 2008.
Helen’s death certificate listed cardio respiratory arrest, hypoxemia, ovarian malignancy with metastasis, diabetes mellitus IIas the causes of death.Helen was 41 and left behind three children and her husband.
In Congress this week, we heard anti-RH legislators arguing against the bill’s passage. Besides Sotto’s demand for death certificates of dead mothers, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also remarked that Filipino women do not suffer from discrimination and that he did not believe that women die of pregnancy and/or childbirth-related complications.
These male senators’ statements expose their insensitivity to, if not total ignorance of, the plight of Filipino women, especially mothers who live in poverty.
The stories of Rosenie, Phoebe, Juliet, Fe, Lourdes, Joevelyn, and Helen show that:
• Despite Enrile’s and Sotto’s denial, women die of complications related with pregnancy and childbirth. The Philippines, in fact ranks the second highest in Asia in terms of maternal mortality rates. Despite its commitment to drastically reduce maternal deaths, the country will miserably fail in meeting its own targets on maternal health, RH and MMR.
• Pregnancy and childbirth are NOT diseases but there are risks associated with them. Thus, death certificates of dead mothers do not consider them as cause/s of death. Instead, the complications suffered by these women are the ones officially listed. Sotto’s demand for death certificates of women like these seven is really a ploy to disprove the existence of unnecessary and preventable maternal deaths. It also betrays his utter disregard for women’s lives and welfare.
• If the services provided by the RH bill are already in place and are properly implemented, these women could have been saved.
Access to information on and family planning services could have helped prevent high-risk pregnancies such as those of Rosenie, Phoebe, Juliet, Fe, Joevelyn and Helen. Because most of them were very poor, they could not access such services that are readily accessible to those with money.
The provision of mobile health care services could have helped save the lives of those who could not go and have pre-natal consultations and those who lived far from the town proper where the health facilities are. Distance, in these women’s cases, played a vital role in what happened to them.
Basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal care services could have saved the lives of those who reached the hospitals. Helen and Phoebe could still be alive if they did not have to transfer from one hospital to another, or if their local hospital had the needed equipment and facilities.
These mothers’ deaths are as real as day and night. There are many more stories out there and each one represents a lost life. They could have been saved if RH services were in place. Denying the grim reality of maternal deaths may be the biggest disservice “honorable” legislators could do to Filipino women.
The seven Soul Sisters in HOR may very well be the soul sisters of all those women who perished in giving life. They are the reasons why RH champions in Congress are fighting. They should be the reason for all of us to put Congress to task and demand the immediate passage of the RH bill.