Philippines braces for baby boom due to lockdown

Doctor Jan Claire Dorado (R), 30, tends to a patient connected to a mechanical ventilator at the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Emergency Room of East Avenue Medical Center, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 26, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Philippines braces for baby boom due to lockdown

  • Lack of access to family planning services, due to restrictions on movement, cited as main reason

MANILA: The Philippines’ anti-coronavirus lockdown could lead to 214,000 extra babies and the highest number of births in the country in two decades, a report by the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) has said.

It cited a severe lack of access to family planning services, due to the restrictions on movement imposed in March, as the main reason for the anticipated baby boom next year. 

“Looking at these numbers, we foresee that because of the restrictions of movement as well as the reduction of access of women and men to family planning supplies, there will be at least one pregnancy for every three women with an unmet need for family planning,” Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III, POPCOM executive director, said in a report.

It cited a study by the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in saying an estimated 2 million babies are expected to be born in the country next year. 

The study noted that more than 200,000 of the births would be from unplanned pregnancies.

Perez said the exponential growth in numbers is “just some of the adverse impacts of the community quarantine to the welfare of our families, which further aggravates the situation of the ongoing health crisis.”

The report said 10 percent of births next year will be among individuals below 20 years of age.

Perez said: “More distressing are the figures for teenagers, or those between 15 and 19 years old. From an initial estimate of 163,000 adolescents with unmet need for family planning, the lockdown will swell this number to 15,000, aggregating the entire set at 178,000, or a surge of 9.3 percent.”

According to POPCOM, the highest number of births in the country since 2000 was 1.79 million, with the numbers declining after that. 

“There were 1.668 million births in 2018. Thus, the additional 214,000 unplanned pregnancies would push the number to almost 1.9 million in 2021, which will make it the highest number of births in the country in more than two decades,” it said.

Studies show that the contraceptive prevalence rate for modern family-planning methods — the percentage of women who use any method of contemporary contraception — is projected to decline by 2.2 percent.

This means over 400,000 women are expected to drop out of the country’s family-planning program.

“While the numbers are staggering, this should sound the alarm for everyone that as the pandemic rages on, family planning should still be top-of-mind for everyone — not only for those directly involved in service delivery, but also for all men and women — mothers and fathers, and even teenage children — who can make a difference by doing their very best to avoid being added as a statistic to the abovementioned numbers; that is, to ensure that they help reduce the incidences of unplanned pregnancies,” Perez said.

Additionally, while quarantine measures have been eased since March, only some family-planning facilities are open to maintain social distancing.

To facilitate people in the process, Perez said emergency measures for family planning are in place, including home delivery of three months’ worth of supplies of pills and condoms for those who have signed up for the family-planning program. 

There is growing concern over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on family-planning services globally, with the UNFPA predicting that as many as 7 million unintended pregnancies could occur worldwide due to the crisis. As of Tuesday, the Philippines had recorded more than 35,400 coronavirus cases.

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 8 min 19 sec ago

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.