From the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals: A Global Call to Collective Action

The Millennial Development Goals, or MDGs, established fifteen years ago sought to eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms.  Along with 189 countries, committed philanthropists, NGOs and other stakeholders came together to address basic social and economic inequalities across the globe.  As a result of their combined efforts the following achievements have gone a long way toward advancing human progress and addressing the needs of people across the globe:

  • Today, people living on less than $1.25 per day has been halved resulting in 700 million fewer people living in extreme poverty  
  • Primary school enrollment has increased by half and in developing countries enrollment has reached 91%  
  • Globally, people receiving treatment for HIV has increased 15 fold while newly acquired infections fell by 40%
  • 2.6 billion people now have access to safe and improved water supplies
  • Child mortality has been reduced by more than half around the world…… still, 11 children will die every minute from preventable diseases until our work is complete

The world is seeing whole communities, whole countries delivered from poverty.  Economic instruments such as microfinance have allowed men, and women especially, to pursue entrepreneurial business and agricultural ventures to sustain themselves, their families and their communities.  Technological advances, like mobile phone technology, are opening the digital virtual classroom for midwives to learn the latest technologies for safe and joyous deliveries while also expanding midwives’ ability to respond in time to the urgent needs of their expectant mothers –  saving lives in the process. Human progress has moved forward with great momentum because of the foundation for growth the Millennium Development Goals built.  We had a plan.  We had a map.  We had qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure our progress.  And, we succeeded in many areas.  Near and dear to our hearts is our work in the Philippines where we find it to be one country to take a look at in terms of progress, achievement, and the work that remains to be done when we begin to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

There has been mixed progress on the MDGs for the Philippines.  Deaths from malaria  and tuberculosis have declined significantly.  However, the Philippines remains 1 of 7 countries where HIV is significantly on the rise, particularly among young adults.  The use of modern methods of contraception has decreased slightly over time between 2006-2011.  This decrease in the use of contraception not only exacerbates the HIV prevalence and prevention of the disease, it leaves Filipinos vulnerable to contracting other communicable STDs.  Access to universal primary education has increased although retention and graduation rates remain, along with the quality of education, lower than desired.  Sexual and reproductive health and rights education as mandated by the Reproductive Health Bill (also known as the Responsible Parenthood Act) lacks uniformity in its application and in full participation by all public schools who are required by law to provide students with information about their bodies, their rights, and their choices.   

Much of the slow progress the Philippines is experiencing is due to the island archipelago nation’s frequent natural disasters. The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world  ranking third according to the World Risk Index, a report published by United Nations University.   Many in the scientific community attribute the country’s vulnerability for natural disasters as a direct result of climate change.  This unique challenge has  slowed and even reversed much of the MDG progress in the country and has hampered our efforts to achieve goals concerning maternal mortality.  

Maternal mortality continues to be very high at more than double the MDG target of reducing maternal mortality to a maximum of 52 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015.  Child mortality has declined by two-thirds, although neonatal deaths have only slightly been reduced because many women still do not have access to skilled birth attendance in a facility.  Inextricably linked to maternal mortality is the neonatal mortality trend.   Carrying one’s pregnancy to term and giving birth are the most vulnerable moments of a woman’s life.  While child mortality between the ages of 0 to 60 months has improved, maternal and neonatal mortality have stagnated at wholly unacceptable levels.  Great efforts at sustaining the young with nutrition, immunization, and disease prevention have secured the health of the young.  However, the fact remains that still too many Filipino women are giving birth without skilled birth attendance and are not accessing the birth facilities available to them.  

This assertion, however, does not account for the many more women living remotely, or without financial means, who do not have access to facilities.   Barriers to care are not limited to access and economic reasons alone.  Culturally, Filipino women and their families may have relied for generations on local women attendants at birth.  The Hilots, as they are known to the people, are experienced but lack education and skill.  They will accompany a home birth with minimal ability to address urgent care needs such as obstructed labor, haemorrhage, and eclampsia – all of which are treatable conditions and are even able to be identified during prenatal care by a skilled midwife or physician.  Further complicating a family’s desire to have the birth in a facility is the custom of some state and private facilities of holding women against their will in the facility until payment for the delivery can be arranged.    

Even with the slow progress the Philippines has seen many advancements in the areas of  malaria and TB reduction, access to, and availability of, primary education, basic sanitation and safe drinking water.  

  As we now mobilize ourselves and our organizations to pivot to and implement the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, we carry on the momentum of the MDGs and lessons learned in the adoption of the new goals that are gathered together as a call to action to end poverty in all its forms, once and for all.  Certainly, it is an ambitious endeavor that will require the commitment of the many nations of the world and their partners and stakeholders to focus their development efforts on the sustainability of our planet.

The SDGs are a comprehensive approach to sustainable living with 17 specific goals and 169 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the world’s progress. A most welcome development is the greater attention given to maternal health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) than was evidenced in the MDGs.  This renewed and reenergized focus on SRHR stems from the sheer wealth of evidence that shows access to modern methods of birth control is central to fighting poverty and is solely the most cost effective way to do it.  Poverty cannot be eradicated without properly addressing a woman’s right to choose, control and/or space her pregnancies.  

If the need for modern contraception was met across the globe:

  • Unintended pregnancies would decrease by 70%
  • Unsafe abortions would decrease by 74%.
  • Maternal deaths would decrease by 25%

Access to modern contraception has a positive effect on the lives of girls and women.  Early unintended pregnancies often lead to girls interrupting or discontinuing their education which only reinforces the cycle of poverty for their families and their communities. The truth is that women’s participation in the labor force not only increases with each additional year of secondary schooling but it also increases a woman’s potential income by 15-25%.  These facts alone should make it apparent that decreasing women’s’ barriers to accessing modern methods of birth control is good for the health of societies.

To this end, Alay Foundation is dedicated to improving reproductive health for women and their families in the Philippines.   Alay Foundation brings free SRHR educational outreach classes into the barangays of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija to reach people where they live in their communities.   Along with an adult class, we have a youth-centered SRHR class where Alay Foundation partners with local schools to deliver dynamic and interactive classes to the student participants.  Our outreach efforts are growing and expanding with each classroom full of participants  We are excited as we get our work underway in 2016 and are planning to reach as many in the community as we can.  Please join us in our efforts by visiting our “Support” page.  Your donation of $55 will support the entire cost of one class.  Won’t you stand with us in combatting poverty and providing critical health education?

Field Notes: Pagibang Damara Festival of San Jose City, Part II

Photo:  Dianne Castelo, Communications Associate and Office Manager, Alay Foundation, located in San Jose City, the Philippines

Article written by Dianne Castelo

I joined Alay Foundation less than a month ago and while I am already enjoying my work immensely it is also challenging me to take on a more public role communicating the Foundation’s mission and programs to people of all walks of life.  I believe God had a hand in providing me this position and I am confident that I will grow and change in so many beneficial ways, both personally and professionally.

One of the first tasks I encountered on the job was putting together and organizing Alay’s participation in the Pagibang Damara Festival trade fair in San Jose City.  Unlike other booths at the fair we were not selling wares of any kind.  Rather, we were sharing with the public Alay Foundation’s programs and services for the community.  The Foundation is woman-centered and offers many benefits for those who will be planning their families, are interested in reproductive health issues and education, and, of course, for those who will be able to use Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center to be located in San Jose City, serving all 38 surrounding barangays. 

We spoke with many people at the fair and explained some family planning concepts with them such as the role of spacing pregnancies two to three years apart for the optimal health of mother and child, as well as the importance of prenatal care and nutrition before, during, and after pregnancy.

While there are many options for safe and effective modern family planning methods, a number of women still choose traditional methods such as periodic abstinence, the rhythm method, and withdrawal because they fear ill effects on their health from modern contraceptives.  However, with the exception of total abstinence, traditional methods are actually less effective than modern contraceptives and modern methods are completely safe.

We used our laptops to deliver presentations on family planning, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections to small groups of people that formed at our booth.  All in all, our presence and community outreach at the Festival was successful! 

As Alay Foundation’s Communications Associate, I am looking forward to planning and promoting our upcoming events such as our June 13th Blood Drive.  Be sure to come out that day and support us.  Tell your friends, family, and colleagues that donating blood is 100% safe and it SAVES LIVES.  Each of us can be a lifesaver – all it takes is one person and one donation at a time.

Midwives Save Lives

Midwifery has been with us, and central to our communities, since the beginning of time when women attended each other’s deliveries, ushering in new life. Through human development, midwifery has come to be institutionalized and professionalized.  This year’s International Day of the Midwife is themed “for a better tomorrow.”  Midwives not only save lives, they provide hope for that better tomorrow. 

The Philippines, a low to middle income nation, is one of 68 countries that contribute to 97% of all maternal, newborn, and early childhood deaths each year worldwide.  2015 is the ultimate target year of the Millennium Development Goals, a broad-based international effort to eliminate poverty and its effects.  Millennium Development Goal #5 seeks to address maternal mortality, reducing by three-quarters the number of women dying in pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period.  Sadly, the Philippines will not achieve the target of 52 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.  Instead, 11 women will die each day leaving more than 30 children motherless for each maternal death.

Midwives are crucial in providing a host of reproductive health care services – from family planning that allows women and their families to number and space their children to vital pre-natal care that can identify at-risk pregnancies in time to refer mothers to physicians and facilities that provide life-saving interventions.  Women are not dying from untreatable diseases and conditions during pregnancy and childbirth – they are dying from preventable causes:  hemorrhage, hypertension, sepsis, obstructed and prolonged labor, and complications from abortion.  Midwives are key to providing not only skilled birth attendance but the essential pre and post natal care an expectant mother needs during what is one of life’s most joyous experiences.

Save the Children and the World Health Organization estimate that another 350,000 midwives are needed to reduce maternal and newborn deaths.  Knowing how pivotal women are to human progress, how they stabilize their societies – from nurturing their loved ones to nurturing their economies and their nations in the process – their tragic and unspeakable loss is felt by families and communities  across the globe.

Facility-based births are on the rise in the Philippines as more women avail themselves of pre-natal care with midwives, nurses, and doctors.  Birthing centers that partner with midwives, such as the one Alay Foundation is building, are the community connection to securing the health of so many mothers and newborns.  Our birthing and women’s center is creating programming that effectively promotes and empowers midwives by making available the space, equipment, and technology to assist them in providing for expectant mothers and by facilitating continuing professional development for each of our partner midwives.  Celebrate midwives, today, and for that “better tomorrow.”  They bring forth the future through their dedication, skill, experience, and compassion.


Click on the link below to read “Giving Life, Giving Health:  The Role of Midwives”

Fighting for Maternal Health & Rights in the Philippines

Today, April 11th, is International Maternal Health and Rights Day – a day that recognizes and commemorates what we are fighting for each and every day.  It is an opportunity for people to advocate for the advancement of maternal health and rights in their communities, their governments, and through social media platforms across the globe.  Over the years we have seen much improvement in maternal health and rights for women and girls.  However, there is still so much to be done to reduce the number of women needlessly dying during pregnancy and childbirth due to a lack of access to family planning, unsafe abortion and preventable and manageable maternal health issues.  Sadly, the Philippines will not achieve the global goal of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity set forth in the United Nations’ MDG’s.  

Family planning and access to safe and quality reproductive health care are fundamental rights all women and girls should expect from their governments and their health care providers.  Family planning is also critical to addressing the maternal health crisis in the Philippines.  While new reproductive health laws have been passed in the Philippines, supply of modern family planning methods has been unreliable and unsteady.  Implementation of the law has had a number of obstacles – both economic and social.  Although, one of the greatest challenges remains the lack of awareness and education about family planning, particularly among teens and among the impoverished in urban and rural settings.  

Today, Alay rededicates itself to doing its part to address these issues.  We are building a modern birthing and women’s center in San Jose to serve the poor at no, or low, cost to women and their families.  We are creating educational outreach campaigns to bring awareness to communities about sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health issues.  We are also partnering with midwives and medical professionals with a program designed to enhance and further their education centered on reproductive, maternal and prenatal health that will allow them to better serve their community.  

 Alay Foundation will continue to advance and advocate maternal health and rights for the women and girls of the Philippines and we look forward to the opening of our first facility, Mary’s Child Birthing and Women’s Center in San Jose.


Respectful Maternity Care

Respectful maternity care is more than a socially just idea or concept. It is a reflective movement comprised of health care workers, activists, NGOs, and policy makers determined to protect women’s rights, their dignity, and choices throughout pregnancy and childbirth. In a world where health equity must be fought for, ensuring respectful maternity care must start at the very base of our society as childbearing is at the heart of communities worldwide.

For those of us working with, and advocating for, maternal, newborn, and child health issues it is heartbreaking to learn of the abuses and disrespect that violate women’s human rights before, during, and after childbirth when a woman is in her most vulnerable state. Organizations such as the White Ribbon Alliance have focused their energies on promoting safe motherhood and serve as a model of forward thinking in maternal care. White Ribbon Alliance has established a pioneering charter that embodies women’s rights and humanity in what is termed the childbearing period. While the Charter was inspired by preceding rights-based frameworks, it is nonetheless groundbreaking in its intent and reach.

The Charter of the Universal Rights of Childbearing Women addresses seven categories of disrespect and abuse and their corresponding rights. From physical abuse and non-consented care to denial of care and detention, women in countries ranging from the poorest to the richest are exposed to maternity care providers who would deny them their autonomy and dignity during one of the most important moments of women’s lives.

Alay Foundation embraces the fundamental human rights of women and their families and actively seeks to promote equitable, respectful care in its maternal health programs and facilities. Midwives will serve as the cornerstone of our services and will be included in our mission to bring respectful maternity care to all those we serve in San Jose City and the surrounding barangays. We intend to fully integrate the Charter into our pre-natal care program all the way through the post-natal period to include the child’s first two years.

We encourage you to lend your support to those who work at the forefront of women’s rights across the globe. Take a look at the video above and share our blog with the women and men in your community who strive to defend and uphold the rights of women and their families.

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.

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 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.