Remarks by Gloria D. Steele, Mission Director, USAID; A Promise Renewed for Filipino Mothers and Children

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

[As Prepared]

Department of Health, development partners, local government, civil societies, fellow advocates for the welfare of women, children and youth, ladies and gentlemen,

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!

On behalf of the U.S. Government, I thank you for the privilege to join you today as we renew a noble promise. In 1990, the Philippines, along with 175 countries around the globe, pledged at the World Summit for Child Survival and Development to save women and children from dying of preventable causes.

Since then, the Philippines has made significant progress to reduce child mortality. From 1998 to 2011, deaths among children under the age of 5 decreased from 48 for every 1,000 live births to 30.

This gives us great reason to be optimistic that we will achieve our Millennium Development Goal of reducing the infant and child mortality rate.

While I applaud this huge accomplishment, recent figures reveal that we are faced with yet another great challenge: Although the number of child mortality cases is decreasing, the proportion of newborn deaths among infant deaths has sharply increased from 51 percent in 1998 to 64 percent in 2008.

This means that among the infants who died before reaching age one, more than half of these deaths occurred in the first 28 days of their short lives. Ladies and gentlemen, these babies never even had a real shot at life to begin with. While national indicators show improvement, there remains an undercurrent of inequality. National averages mask critical disparities in wealth, urban-rural residences and gender. It reveals that not all Filipino mothers and babies have the same access to the basic health care that is needed for an infant to grow up in a happy, healthy family.

When a baby is born, s/he needs to be safe, wanted, and protected. The mother’s pregnancy needs to have been healthy, complete with regular check-ups and proper nutrition. And there is a direct correlation between child survival rate with that of the mother’s age, the baby’s birth order, and the interval between the mother’s births.

But how can a mother limit her births if she cannot access family planning? The 2011 Family Health Survey estimates that as many as 5.3 million Filipino women of reproductive age have an unmet need for family planning. Unwanted, unplanned pregnancies and lack of access to quality health care are leading drivers for maternal death rates. These deaths - both of mothers and babies - are preventable and should not happen at this age and time. Not now. Not anymore.

You have just watched the Department of Health’s campaign on the importance of voluntary family planning. We saw a young girl longing to obtain an education and build a better future for herself; but how can her mother and father afford to put her through school when they struggle just to put food on the table? She realizes that rather than reading books, going to school, and expanding her horizon, she must dutifully share in the day-to-day work of raising her siblings as her dreams vanish.

Bringing up a child is not just about surviving. I’m sure that many of you in this room are parents yourself - as am I - and we all know that every baby deserves a healthy start at life. This begins with the mother being provided with quality health and nutrition services throughout her pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum period. And when the baby is born, he must be able to breath, have warmth and protection from diseases, and initiate breastfeeding all in the first hour of his tiny, vulnerable life. As the baby continues to grow, he must have proper nutrition, immunization, and management of illnesses to grow and develop.

And speaking of development, children must be nurtured in a loving environment full of care and support and given the opportunity for quality education and guidance from his parents and elders.

For more than 50 years, USAID has supported the Philippine Government in realizing the vision of healthy and productive Filipino families.

USAID’s early support helped the Philippine Government strengthen social health insurance through PhilHealth. Together, we also developed a stronger child immunization program, addressed vitamin deficiency issues among children and pregnant mothers, and introduced methods to treat diarrhea in children. These efforts modernized health practices, preventing unnecessary deaths among this vulnerable population.

At present, USAID supports President Aquino’s Universal Health Care program or “Kalusugan Pangkalahatan by working with the Department of Health in ensuring that all Filipinos have equitable access to supply and demand of maternal, child health and family planning services. Projects that have been successful on the local level are being replicated and standardized in the USAID-assisted provinces and cities nationwide.

As you may already know, the Government of the Philippines and the U.S. Government are working together to achieve the shared vision of broad-based and inclusive economic growth under the Partnership for Growth. Our health efforts, alongside other areas of work in education, environment, and energy are absolutely key to achieving this goal.

Global evidence proves that the quality of nutrition and care a child receives in infancy and childhood influences his ability to learn and flourish in his or her later years. Let me ask you - doesn’t everybody deserve that chance? A fair, fresh, healthy start to live - to thrive? If the Philippines is to continue on its trajectory of growth, we must invest in its most valuable asset - its people.

No single organization can accomplish the vision of ending preventable maternal and child deaths. Through the leadership of the Department of Health, we must coordinate creatively, maximizing our technical expertise, funding, supply chains, and communication channels. We must work together to reach the country’s most vulnerable populations with innovative, accessible, life-saving programs.

We have seen some initial gains - but our work is far from over. As a unified community, let us improve health services that save children’s and mother’s lives and give families the opportunity to achieve any goal they can dreamup.

We are with you, Secretary Ona, in this, because after all, the health and welfare of the people should be the ultimate goal of our common efforts to create a brighter future that all Filipinos can enjoy.

Thank you and Mabuhay!

Issuing Country