In the Philippines, fewer than 60 per cent of women have access to reproductive healthcare. Basic knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights is difficult to access due to the overarching influence of religious conservatism.
In Palawan, an archipelagic province in southwest Philippines, 25 per cent of pregnancies are teenage pregnancies. In the country as a whole, 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned and 14 women die every day of preventable pregnancy complications.
The Philippines is one of a handful of countries worldwide where the rate of HIV infection is on the rise. In 2015, there were 22 new reported cases of HIV every day, according to government studies. Many people engage in sexual relations from approximately the age of 15 and the health ministry says that Palawan’s young people begin having sex about one year earlier than the national average. A lack of sexual health education means that sexually active young people are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV at an early age.
Roots of Health was set up in 2009 with a focus on raising awareness of reproductive health rights and addressing the knowledge gap in family planning information and the lack of access to reproductive health services, including contraceptives.
The organisation provides over 3,000 women and girls with community-based family planning and pregnancy-related services, while it also works to educate and empower women and young people to reduce unplanned pregnancies.
Roots of Health provides reproductive health education to adolescents in public urban and rural high schools and conducts interactive workshops with women to deliver information on topics including human rights, family relationships, nutrition, pregnancy and pre- and post-natal care.
Beneficiaries who show leadership skills are given further training as Community Health Advocates who then go on to assist the clinical team and help keep track of the progress of women in their communities. Youth Advocates are similarly trained and educate peers on reproductive health and provide referrals for reproductive health services and HIV testing. These advocates go a long way toward ensuring the sustainability of the programmes. Roots of Health has trained 56 Community Health Advocates, 246 Youth Advocates and has reached over 30,000 students across Palawan since 2013.
Photo: Jacob Meantez