‘Wider reach can lower baby deaths’

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A study conducted by Unicef Philippines with the University of Queensland in Australia and the Medical University of Graz in Austria has found that death rates among newborn babies and children under five years old in poor families are still high despite their overall decline in the Philippines.

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With implementation of the universal health program in the country, which made it easier for people from the poor sector to enroll in health insurance, the study’s researchers recommended that the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) enhance its Primary Care Benefit Package for those living in rural areas and to include more skilled birth attendant services in the coverage to reduce the mortality rates of young children.

“Refocusing on and enhancing PhilHealth packages in emerging areas in child health such as malnutrition and premature births will have massive impact on equitable reduction of death rates in children,” the researchers said.

According to the study, the death rate of newborns is considered a good indicator of a country’s health status, and that the Philippines has made significant progress in reducing the mortality rates of newborn babies on a national average with a rate of 19 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013.

The number has decreased from the 29 deaths per 1,000 live births back in 2003.
Also, death rates among children under five years old also decreased to 30 deaths per 1,000 children in 2012 from 40 deaths in 2003.

The researchers, however, said the national average does not reflect  the situation in the country’s regions.

“National averages mask significant disparities [in health access]. As a result, children from poor families and those living in rural areas are burdened with higher risk of dying,” they pointed out.

PhilHealth president Alexander Padilla said the agency is focusing on providing more expenses to primary birthing clinics than hospitals “to promote facility-based births instead of home-based births” in hopes of reducing maternal deaths in the country.

Dr. Israel Pargas, PhilHealth officer-in-charge and vice president for corporate affairs, said the agency covers all pregnancy complications under the Maternity Care Package.

Meanwhile, the researchers recommended that continued surveillance of people’s health status and responsive policy-making would ensure the success of the universal health program in the country to reduce the disparity between the rich and the poor in terms of health access.

“[We] believe that the Philippines is on the right track in implementing a universal health program. With the right steps, [we]are optimistic that the country can successfully reduce inequity in health access and narrow the gaps in death rates of Filipino children,” they said.

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