Prenatal Care: The Vital Link for a Healthy Mother and Child

The primary goal of prenatal care remains an optimally healthy pregnancy outcome for mother and child.  In order to achieve this outcome, prenatal care encompasses a range of aspects from medical to social; from physiological to psychological; and from assessment to intervention.  Once pregnancy is confirmed, a woman’s health care provider monitors the development of the pregnancy and guides the mother to and through childbirth.  An expectant mother’s first appointment includes determining patient history, performing of the physical examination, and undergoing laboratory testing.  Subsequent appointments routinely evaluate and screen for maternal or fetal problems in order to intervene and prevent complications in pregnancy and childbirth.  Additionally, patient education becomes part of the process where mothers and families learn about, and are counseled on, nutrition, healthy lifestyle, birth plan, and family planning.

Two primary purposes and benefits of prenatal care are the reduction of preventable maternal and infant mortality and morbidity – goals the international community adopted in 2000 with the overarching theme of eliminating poverty and its attendant and concomitant developmental challenges.  These goals became part of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals that nations have been striving to achieve by 2015 in partnerships between and among governments, civil society, and the public and private sectors.

Improvements in maternal mortality rates have been made in the ensuing years since 2000.  However, some countries lag behind in their attempt to fulfill the goal of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters by 2015.  One such country is the Philippines where the maternal mortality rate is 221 deaths per 100,000 live births as of available statistics from 2011.  Prenatal care from a physician, nurse-midwife, or a midwife helps to avert these preventable deaths.  Yet, 10% of rural Filipino women still seek out the traditional birth attendant known as a hilot who has had no formal education or training in obstetrics.  Largely, these women are socio-economically disadvantaged with low educational attainment availing themselves of hilots who are members of the immediate community and offer a low-cost alternative to professional health care providers.  For many rural women hilots are their only option and they typically do not receive care in the initial stages of their pregnancies.  Rather, the expectant mothers will delay visiting with the hilot early on.  While it has been reported that traditional birth attendants provide much in the way of emotional support and are effective at allaying expectant mothers’ fears they are unable to screen for or determine high-risk pregnancies since they perform their services outside the modern medical community.

Through prenatal care during pregnancy health care providers are better able to identify a number of complications early on including preventable causes of maternal mortality such as risk of hemorrhage, hypertension, obstructed labor, infection, and unhealthy lifestyle.  Moreover, pregnancy, while natural and normal, can still be a time of vulnerability.  Health care professionals providing assurances and support for anxieties and apprehensions during pregnancy and childbirth is central to delivering quality and comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care.

At Alay Foundation, we believe it is the right of every woman to receive quality care for herself and her unborn children and financial hardship should not be a deterrent to seeking the best possible prenatal care.  Our birthing center and proposed prenatal program to partner our physicians with midwives is committed to a holistic approach for the health of mother and child while enrolling women and their families in PhilHealth continues to be our focus for establishing a relationship of reliability and trust for struggling Filipino families in need of health care services.  Health care professionals are there to guard and guide the process of pregnancy and childbirth.  Expecting a child is a profound time in the life of mothers and families – one that can be filled with much joy and anticipation and prenatal care forms the cornerstone of supporting the health of mother and child.  Every woman deserves the chance to seek, and have, the best possible care for herself and for her unborn children.

From MDGs to SDGs: Maternal Health Must Remain Our Focus

**Mother and child enrolled in PhilHealth by Alay Foundation
As the United Nation’s Open Working Group finalizes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), Alay Foundation will continue to be an advocate for maternal health and family planning as the SDG’s are put in place to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.  
Addressing maternal mortality is a global imperative that requires a commitment of partnerships between governments, nonprofits, corporate sponsors and advocates around the world. A sharing of ideas, best practices, data, research, and outcomes is important to make a global impact on reducing maternal mortality ratios.  This sharing of knowledge with countries that are struggling to meet their target for reducing maternal mortality will benefit them through learning from the strategies of countries that are having great success in decreasing their nation’s MMR. 
While reducing the maternal mortality ratio makes an appearance in the  proposed Sustainable Development Goals, it is not a prominent goal such as it was with the Millennium Development Goals. We must work harder to keep the initiative of maternal health at the forefront of our advocacy work as we partner with other organizations and attempt to change harmful practices and beliefs that deter women and their families from optimal health.  While the birthing center’s construction is a few short months away, we are about to embark on our first comprehensive demographic research study to collect information that will allow us to tailor and structure our educational outreach programs in San Jose and the surrounding barangay to meet the needs of the people.
Alay Foundation eagerly anticipates the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and is prepared to embrace this next platform of goals to eradicate global poverty.  We will continue our work in the field advocating and educating women and families and are excited as we look forward to the opening of our of our birthing center and our upcoming events.

International Day of the Girl: The Time Has Come

Empowering women starts with the belief that women have the same social, economic, and political power that their male counterparts are privileged to have throughout the world. The belief that a women’s autonomy is somehow infused with the men that share their lives is a belief of a generation come to pass; a belief that belongs firmly in history; a belief that has only harmed the progress of women and girls and universally impeded our ability to address the world’s most pressing issues.  Poverty, today, persists because of this gender inequality.  This is an idea that is not new to the world’s call to end poverty.  A 2007 UNICEF State of the World’s Children report states: 

Gender equality will not only empower women to overcome poverty, but also their children, families, communities and countries. When seen in this light, gender equality is not only morally right – it is pivotal to human progress and sustainable development.  

When women and girls are prevented from achieving educational attainment, society suffers from the loss of their contributions as leaders.  When women are held back by circumscribed roles that prevent them from entrepreneurial enterprises in their communities it only hinders economies, both locally and globally. When women and girls experience discrimination and violence in their families, communities, and societies they are unable to reach the full measure of their promise and potential.  

The time for mere awareness has passed, it is now time for action. So much of what pertains to action is about changing negative social norms through advocacy, education and legislation.  When these mechanisms are at work, a woman’s voice is not only heard but amplified by the support of individuals and institutions that protect and preserve her basic rights.  An important part of the work of Alay Foundation is to educate and empower women with medically accurate sexual reproductive health information, both at our coming birthing and women’s center in San Jose and in our educational outreach programs in the barangay that will be starting soon.   

The nexus between poverty and family planning cannot be understated.  Women who are able to choose the number and spacing of their children are women who are empowered to create families that can sustain themselves; families that are able to provide shelter, education, and hope for all their members. Family planning is not about population control. It is a way for families to achieve something beyond poverty.  

On this International Day of the Girl, we take the time to reflect on the problems facing girls globally and commit ourselves to ending gender inequality in order to see a world where girls participate fully in the solutions that will bring about the kind of lasting change that gives us all hope for the future.