POPCOM said it will go to great lengths with LGUs to provide family planning services and commodities to those who will be affected by further lockdowns.

With the latest implementation of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces, as well as the possible extensions in time and coverage looming in the midst of a raging pandemic, the Commission on Population and Development is expecting an added strain to local health systems that will adversely affect the delivery of family planning supplies and services.

As such, the government agency will be tightly collaborating with local government units not just in the National Capital Region and its nearby provinces, but also nationwide, to guarantee the steady supply of family planning commodities, while going to great lengths to ensure services will remain uninterrupted by conducting house-to-house deliveries of pills and condoms.

This, as the “NCR Plus” is currently placed under a stricter lockdown until Easter Sunday, with a possibility of further local, regional and wider quarantines in the coming weeks as the pandemic intensifies its contagion across the country.

With the new ECQ, its area of coverage will adversely impact about 700,000 women and men using pills and condoms, who will have impeded access to family planning commodities and services. This could result in deferred usage and hampered practice of family planning by couples and individuals residing in “NCR Plus.” Unintended pregnancies may also occur in one out every three women who cannot continue their family planning practice, according to the 2020 study of the University of the Philippines (UPPI) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) entitled: “Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Philippines.”

This grave concern is worsened by the fact that in 2020, the country’s regional capital and its adjacent provinces fared inadequately in family planning and reproductive health, according to Undersecretary of Population and Development (POPDEV) Juan Antonio Perez III, MD, MPH.

Perez stated: “The context of our concern last year was related to the severity of lockdowns, population affected, and the length of the period of ECQ. The current one is quite limited, but will affect a third of the population, and might take its toll on local health systems.”

“However, we have noted that last year, the NCR and surrounding provinces performed poorly in terms of family planning and reproductive health,” the POPCOM chief lamented. “Thus, we need to double on our efforts to ensure we get back on track with our provisions for those relying on our family planning services nationwide.”

Perez’s claims are based on reports from LGUs that the pandemic has setback the government’s coverage on family planning to about two years, or at 2018 levels.

Likewise, he shared concerns of POPCOM and the Department of Health that there may be very few health workers who are able to provide or extend family services, given the pressing need to attend and prioritize Covid-19 cases not just in “NCR Plus,” but also in areas with rising numbers of infections.

To address this concern, the POPDEV undersecretary said that POPCOM will further intensify its partnerships with LGUs and communities to enable home deliveries of appropriate family planning commodities to clients, as it assures the availability of such across the archipelago.

“The national and regional supply chains are more stable,” but he cautioned that “in terms of increased need for maternal health services and family planning, any extension of lockdowns or implementations of ECQs will lead to further consequences until year-end.”

That said, the head of POPCOM is renewing his call on LGUs to always include family planning initiatives in their activities, with a request to a specific group of workers throughout the country:

“As we acknowledge the invaluable assistance they currently extend to the grassroots and other hard to reach areas, we once again call on our barangay health and population workers and volunteers, also on behalf of the millions of family planning users in the entire Philippines, to extend their energies to our family planning work,” the undersecretary appealed. “As we have experienced in the past, they are warmly welcomed by those availing of family planning in their respective homes. Their efforts of going the extra mile are extremely appreciated.”

He further stated: “We are aware that their hands are currently full. But we know our innate bayanihan spirit can prevail over the pandemic, and that we can count on the unwavering support of our community volunteers in these very trying times. We assure them that their collective determination will not, and will never, be in vain.” ###