Unplanned pregnancies deemed an epidemic amid the Philippines’ COVID-19 pandemic

The University of the Philippine Population Institute (UPPI) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warn of dire consequences as the number of “planned" pregnancies are expected to reach 2.5 million by the end of the year. During his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis warned against forms of "ideological colonization" that threaten the family.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As a result of the coronavirus lockdown, the University of the Philippine Population Institute (UPPI) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) expect that the number of “unplanned” pregnancies in the Philippines will reach 2.5 million this year, a jump of 42 per cent compared to 2019.

Speaking to a Senate inquiry last month, UNFPA program officer Aimee Santos-lyons said that “This is an epidemic within an epidemic”.

Family planning and birth controls are divisive issue in the country. Despite the opposition of the Catholic Church, the Philippine Congress adopted the Reproductive Health Law in 2012 after years of debate, establishing a national family planning plan designed to cut the birth rate.

A year after the law was passed, the contraceptive use rate was 38 per cent, up from 34 per cent in 2008. By 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, the rate was 40 per cent. In 2017, the National Economic and Development Authority set a five-year target to raise the rate to 65 per cent.

Now, amid a full-blown pandemic, some have complained that healthcare workers from various sectors are being diverted to deal with the pandemic at a time when the country’s healthcare system is already overstretched.

Risa Hontiveros, a lawmaker who is pushing for the passage of the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Act, called this trend a “COVID-isation of the health care system” because the nurses assigned to serve in family planning clinics have been called to provide COVID-19 care instead.

“We have to acknowledge that while [combating] COVID-19 is a top priority, the continuity of other essential health services, like family planning, should be ensured too,” said Mike Singh, the UNFPA’s chief of health.

The commitment to this model of family planning appears to be a direct consequence of what Pope Francis – on 16 January, 2015, during his visit to the Philippines, in a meeting with families in Manila – calls "ideological colonization”.

In his view, families are “threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”

Meanwhile, other countries in the Asia-Pacific region are taking steps to raise the birth rate by offering monetary rewards to couples who have children.

In September, The Japan Times reported that Japanese authorities were working on a plan to provide 600,000 yen (US$ 5,600) to support couples in the early years of their married lives.

In October, Singapore also announced that it would offer financial support for aspiring parents who may have postponed having children because of the pandemic.