Giving Life, Giving Health: The Role of Midwives

As health care providers, midwives serve in a critical role on the frontlines of childbirth, yet millions of women will give birth without the support or assistance of a skilled birth attendant.  Each year 289,000 women die during pregnancy, childbirth, or in the post-natal period.  An additional 10 to 15 million women will become disabled due to chronic illness or injury from what are largely preventable and treatable complications arising from pregnancy or childbirth. Midwives are trained to ensure women receive quality care before, during, and after delivery and are equipped to identify high-risk pregnancies which, in turn, enables them to refer women to health care professionals and facilities for preventative or emergency care.

Midwives save lives.  Yet, globally, according to the World Health Organization, “more than one-third of all births take place without a midwife or other skilled health staff.”  Midwives, with their training and location in the community, often serve as a portal to the health care system that extends beyond pregnancy and childbirth.  They are often found offering counseling on issues of child care, nutrition, and family planning or administering immunizations and giving treatment for common illnesses.

However, there is a shortage or midwives universally.  The World Health Organization estimates that another 350,000 midwives are necessary to reach the MDG 5 target of reducing maternal mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

In the Philippines there are approximately 150,000 registered midwives of which 17,000 are government midwives performing health services in over 15,000 barangay (village) health stations.  The Philippine Department of Health reports that 56 percent of all births still occur at home while the remaining 44 percent are facility-based deliveries.  These figures represent a need for more skilled birth attendance which leads to better health outcomes for mother and child.  Midwives are part of the solution to bringing down the maternal mortality rate in the Philippines.  Statistics show that 221 Filipino women die in childbirth per 100,000 live births.  This amounts to 11 women dying each day.  It is unacceptable that women should die while giving life.

With the opening of Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center, Alay Foundation will work to integrate midwives into the center’s services.  Midwives will benefit from the use of our facilities for pre-natal care and deliveries and will take part in extensive continuing education and empowerment programs.  We feel every woman deserves to have access to skilled birth attendance with the explicit opportunity, and right, to live and thrive.  Promoting the work of midwives is integral to our center’s mission as we seek to address MDG 5 and reduce maternal mortality in the Philippines.  Visit our programs page to learn more about Mary’s Child Birthing Center and our other health programs.

Saving Lives is NOT Controversial; Family Planning Access IS Essential

This is the third blog post in the Alay Foundation Series: Maternal Mortality Crisis in the Philippines.  Family planning is essential in preventing maternal mortality.
Depending on where you travel in the United States and around the world, contraception remains a topic of contention.  A simple life-saving idea, such as birth control pills or condoms, provokes unprecedented controversy that skews the facts of modern medical science and politicizes the issue resulting in 356,000 maternal deaths 640,000 newborn deaths and prevent 70% of 20 million abortions every year globally. 
Between conservative legislative groups in both the United States and the Philippines, women continue to suffer from narrow policies that don’t fully account for their basic human rights.  Entrenched religious culture in the Philippines limits women and their families from determining the number and spacing of their children.  
American foreign aid in the form of family planning finds itself reliant on the political cycles and climate in the US to the detriment of women worldwide. It is a woman’s right, and a family’s right, to have autonomy over their reproductive health and access to modern family planning methods in the form of contraception without interference.  
When women have access to contraception, it has a profound affect on human development overall.  Ted Turner, founder of CNN and United Nations Foundation, wrote an article “7 Billion Reasons to Empower Women,” which stated:
“Universal access to voluntary family planning is a cross-cutting and cost-effective solution to achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals. In addition to reducing maternal mortality, providing voluntary family planning methods and education enables young women to avoid early pregnancy, allows more girls to attend school longer, makes it possible for women to have fewer, healthier children and helps break the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Additionally, it would reduce HIV transmission, empower women to pursue income-generating activities in their communities and promote environmental sustainability.”
It is sad, and unfortunate, that something as basic as contraception is shrouded in controversy and continues to be an obstacle for over 220 million women. Ensuring access to family planning is the best way to eradicate poverty worldwide.  Alay Foundation will be placing itself on the front lines, offering medically proven, life-changing basic family planning options to women and families with the opening of Mary’s Child Birthing & Women’s Center in San Jose, Philippines.  
Become part of the solution and join us in our efforts to bring family planning to women and families who need it most in the Philippines: Follow our blog, join the discussion and make a donation today:

Maternal Mortality Crisis in the Philippines and the Importance of Family Planning

This is the second blog post in the Alay Foundation Series: Maternal Mortality Crisis in the Philippines.  Family Planning is essential in preventing maternal mortality. 
One of the major hurdles the world is facing in reducing maternal mortality is the lack of family planning, especially in developing countries and, more specifically, with disadvantaged women living in rural areas.  A lack of access to modern family planning methods prevents women and their partners from determining the size and future of their families.  This, in turn, affects maternal mortality rates, overall global poverty, and the number of girls who complete their education.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), half of the estimated 3.4 million annual pregnancies in the Philippines are unplanned and one third are illegally aborted in unsafe procedures.  Furthermore, the fertility rates among the poor in the Philippines is three times higher than among the wealthy and educated.  On average poor women have two more children than they desire.  The UNFPA reports that “women who lack the power and means to decide how many children [to have] often become caught in a life-long downward cycle of poverty, exclusion, poor health, and even maternal death and disabilities.”  
Maternal mortality is more than a socio-economic problem.  It often precipitates crisis in the family as globally each year more than one million children are left motherless due to complications resulting in death during and after childbirth.  This figure represents a devastating experience that further burdens already struggling families as they must find the means to care for the children left behind.  
Alay Foundation recognizes that family planning is crucial for women and men in order to choose the number and/or spacing of their children.  Our birthing center, Mary’s Child Birthing & Women’s Center, in San Jose will offer basic contraceptives such as free birth control and condoms and will be able to offer referrals to facilities that provide comprehensive family planning services.  We believe it is the right of every woman and her family to have access to family planning options. When women and their partners have the ability to choose if, when, and how many children to have, families and communities are stabilized.  

Maternal Health is a Human Rights Issue

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The most vulnerable woman among us is the impoverished woman who lacks access to quality health care services.  Her right to life is intrinsically linked to her right to survival in pregnancy, childbirth, and during the post-partum period.  Too many women die needlessly giving life as a result of states’ failure to foster maternal health as a human right.  A rights-based approach to maternal health fundamentally sharpens our focus on a woman’s human rights in general and, in particular, her right to life, to dignity, and to equality.  This rights-based approach must consist of a woman’s right to have access to comprehensive quality health care including family planning and contraception.

A woman’s autonomy over her reproductive health and fertility empowers her to plan the number and spacing of her children.  The use of contraception has a corollary relationship with social and economic development.  When women control their own fertility there is a marked decline in child and maternal deaths.  Women are able to participate more fully in educational, labor force, and political opportunities.  Sometimes called the “demographic dividend”, this trend in reduced fertility rates is the economic benefit countries experience as a direct result of reduced birth rates alongside an increase of women in the workforce.  The occurrence of a demographic dividend typically happens over many decades and wanes as a benefit when the reduction in birth rates translates to a reduction of participants in the workforce.  The dividend represents a window of opportunity during which time countries will benefit before its reversal.

A rights-based approach to maternal health must also include her right to political participation and equality in policy-making at the local, regional, national, and international levels.  Empowering women, in turn, empowers whole communities – lifting all boats – and, as a result, the impact on development cannot be underestimated.  A woman’s participation in policy-making and implementation is a critical element in putting women, regardless of status, at the center of how governments formulate maternal health policies and enables the necessary accountability measures to ensure governments deliver on their policies and programs.

Maternal mortality is a human rights issue.  The inequality inherent in the imbalances of power structures is what fuels poverty and poverty should never be the reason a woman dies or becomes disabled while giving life. When governments approach maternal health as a human right they ennoble life itself.

MDG Countdown: Alay Foundation Responds

This is the first blog post in a series ‘Maternal Mortality Crisis in the Philippines’ that will concentrate specifically on MDG 5: Improving Maternal Mortality and how Alay Foundation plans to address the crisis in the Philippines and improve lives for women throughout the San Jose area of the Philippines.  


As the 500-day countdown for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) has just begun, the world has seen improvement and promise in achieving some of the MDG’s by 2015. In fact, there has been much progess on the eight MDG’s that were established in 2000 to improve the lives of the world’s poorest by 2015, such as access to safe drinking water and a reduction in global poverty rates.  Unfortunately, MDG 5, comprised of two parts focused on improving maternal health, the fist of which aims to “reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio,” is one of the furthest goals from being reached.  

Although the global maternal mortality ratio has decreased by 45 percent, this number is still unacceptably high: 289,000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013, deaths that have left families in turmoil and children motherless. The vast majority of these deaths could have been easily avoided with the proper access to health care and family planning.  

The situation in the Philippines is dire.  The Philippines has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in all of Asia and will not meet the target number of 52 deaths per 100,000 live births.  As of 2011, the most current statistics for MDG 5 in the Philippines, 221 women die each year in childbirth for every 100,000 live births.    

Alay Foundation will address maternal mortality in the Philippines with the building of our first facility, Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center.  The designs for the medical facility are in the final production stages and will soon be submitted to the Philippine Department of Health for approval. The birthing center will be a modern medical facility with two private delivery rooms, one four-bed semi-private recovery room, and a consultation room where women can meet with a trained health professional and receive free pregnancy and STD screenings and basic family planning services.  

The birthing center will be built across the street from one of San Jose’s most respected hospitals, the Heart of Jesus Hospital.  Alay Foundation has a working relationship with the hospital and any obstetric emergencies that can not be handled on-site will be transferred to the Heart of Jesus Hospital, ensuring the best patient care available in the Philippines.  

Alay Foundation is committed to ending preventable maternal mortality in the Philippines.  We believe that no woman should die giving birth to the next generation.  Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center will be a vital community resource for women throughout the San Jose NE area of the Philippines.  

Please join us in helping the women and families in the Philippines by donating today.  

Intro To Our Field Notes Blogger: Kristine Glory Corbe

Kristine is our senior staff member at Alay Foundation in the Philippines. She is the acting Operations Manager when Dr. Sobrepena is out of the country, and serves as executive assistant and field coordinator/researcher. Kristine wears many hats for Alay Foundation and her dedication to our mission and our patients is extraordinary. Alay Foundation is lucky to have Kristine on our team. Kristine will be blogging from the field and sharing her experiences with us on this blog.

“Health is wealth, but sometimes prioritized last because of other immediate needs.”

~ Kritine Glory Corbe


I’m no stranger to difficulties in life. I need not look far away from where I am to see hardships, even death, due to complications from health issues that could have been prevented or treated had they been addressed early.

At an early age, I was aware of these problems for I was not fortunate enough to come from a well to do family. For me, growing up, the emphasis on health was always at the bottom of the list. Food, rent, electricity, water, and other necessities came first, then health care issues. Basic healthcare in the Philippines is a luxury not everyone can afford.

With Alay Foundation I saw the opportunity to be part of something great. Part of something that is of service. Part of something that brings hope and joy to our fellowmen. Part of something that is purely for the less priviledged. It may not be the solution for all the hardships in life, but it addresses a much needed support for the welfare of our fellowmen. I feel blessed that I am at the forefront, or rather, at the receiving end of a smile of gratitude from the benefactors even though I am only an extension of your generosity.

When I attended Alay’s event last May 13, 2014 (Ground Breaking/eye screening), the founder of Alay Foundation, Dr. Jose Sobrepena, gave an inspirational speech. Dr. Sobrepena said: “Alay Foundation is willing to help people who are willing to help themselves.” This phrase is really meaningful and remarkable in my mind. Alay Foundation is in the process of expanding its programs to include social initiatives to reach even more of our fellowmen.

I extend to you their gratitude, for it is because of your continuous support and generosity that makes all of our work possible.