Partnership to Bring Down MMR in Samar GIDA Towns

By Jaykee Rodriguez, M.D.

It is not statistically significant but something has to be done about it. In Health Secretary Enrique Ona’s keynote message delivered on his behalf by Health Undersecretary David Lozada Jr., the secretary said that they received statistical explanation saying the increase in the ratio of maternal mortality from 162 in 2006 to 221 in 2011 is “statistically insignificant.” But Ona goes on to say, “the fact remains that the figures are there and we have to do something to make it come down as we near the countdown to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.”

The message was delivered during the launch of a public-private partnership for the improvement of maternal health in 21 poor Samar Island municipalities. Called the “MSD for Mothers and ZFF Community Health Partnership: The Joint Development Initiative,” this is a partnership between global healthcare company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF), with the support of the DOH.

“In the Philippines, the grim reality is that the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is quite alarming, wherein the country is expected to fall behind the MDG 5 target. From current statistics, the maternal mortality ratio is 221, a far cry from the United Nation’s goal of 52,” said MSD Asia Pacific President Patrick Bergstedt.

That women continue to die due to preventable pregnancy or childbirth complications is what made MSD and ZFF decide to work together in one of the country’s poorest provinces. Aside from being poor, chosen municipalities for this project are also considered geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs).

According to ZFF chairman Roberto Romulo, “GIDA municipalities pose unique and more difficult challenges to improving healthcare. Defined as communities with marginalized population physically and economically separated from the mainstream society, these areas are usually isolated due to distance, weather conditions, and transportation difficulties and are characterized by poor health outcomes.”

Romulo also noted that in 2010, the collective MMR of the Samar provinces was 111 while the MMR of GIDA municipalities in the province was 392.

Under the partnership, 63 local chief executives, municipal health officers and community leaders from the 21 LGUs will be trained and mentored on leadership and governance, and local health systems development. At least 34 health leaders and professionals from the region and provinces will be trained to give technical assistance to the 21 LGUs. Using the Essential Intrapartum and Newborn Care Initiative of the WHO, 102 midwives and 1,862 BHW’s will be trained and supervised to increase community participation and improve health-seeking behaviour of locals.

Through the project, these municipalities are expected to eventually have upgraded and certified health facilities, equipment & transport service for antenatal & obstetric care, and policy, program and budgetary support for obstetric and ante-natal care.

This initiative is under the “MSD for Mothers” global project launched in September 2011 at the United Nations in New York. The aim is “to help create a world in which no woman has to die from pregnancy and childbirth, and to help reduce the burden of maternal mortality globally.” This is one of only two grants given so far by MSD (Merck) in the Asia Pacific. The other one is in Indonesia.