Senate oks expanded mother, child health care bill

MANILA As the nation celebrates National Women's Month, the Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading a proposed measure expanding the country's nutrition and health programs for mothers and children during the child's first 1,000 days of life.

Under Senate Bill 1537, or the proposed Healthy Nanay and Bulilit Act, the first 1,000 days of a child's life refers to the period that begins with day one of a woman's pregnancy until the baby's second birthday.

This period has been identified as a golden window for development, with effects ranging from the potential to prevent stunted growth and the opportunity to improve cognitive development.

Under the bill, the government would be mandated to prioritize the nutrition of pre-pregnant, pregnant and lactating women, infants and young children, to be implemented in an integrated manner by all branches of government."

According to the bill's provisions, the government would provide for a comprehensive strategy to address health and nutrition of children, institutionalize and scale up investment plans for health and nutrition in the regional and local development units.

The bill would also strengthen enforcement of Executive Order No. 51, or the "Milk Code," and Republic Act 10028, or the "Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009," which promote optimal infant and young child feeding and maternity protection.

The passage of SB 1537 was lauded by the bill's sponsors in the Senate.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who is the Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said that with the bill's passage, the country now has a clear policy in helping scale up nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life.

Today we take a giant step towards securing the country's future. The fight against malnutrition will now be a top priority of both the national and the local government," the main sponsor of the proposed bill said.

"By ensuring that we have healthy nanays who will give birth to healthy bulilits, the country is assured of future healthy Pinoys and Pinays who will become productive members of society," Hontiveros said.

In the meantime, Senator Ralph Recto hailed the proposed bill as fiscally responsible, one that is able to redeem what had been promised our children without creating burdensome national debts that they will have to pay in the future.

While the list of the programs this bill mandates is long, the cost of doing them is low, Recto said.

He said the program will require an additional PHP6 billion to PHP7 billion during its first year of implementation, roughly equal to six to seven weeks of soda tax collection.

PHP10 billion has already been earmarked in the national budget under the different programs integrated in the expanded bill.

While the additional allocation may be considered small, the scope of the program will provide among others: nutritional supplement to 650,000 high-risk women and 300,000 babies from poor families annually; administer Vitamin A drops to almost 3.3 million 6-to- 23-month old infants; give iron tablets to 3.8 million pregnant women and half-a-million babies; vaccinate 2.7 million one-year-old and below babies against Hepatitis B, Polio, Measles, Mumps and Rubella; and inoculate 2.7 million pregnant women against Tetanus and Diptheria.

The bill also provides for deworming of 3.7 million children below 2 years of age, plus girls 10 to 18 years of age; provide Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccines to 1.4 million children 1 year old and below; as well as nutritionally fortify 4 million metric tons of flour, and ensure that 50 million Filipinos will have access to iodized salt among others.

While the rest of the world is growing taller, so to speak, the Philippines will remain stunted if we do not act fast to solve undernutrition which will prove costlier to society in terms of loss of productivity, than the PHP17 billion budget it will entail to implement this 1,000 days program, Recto said.

For his part, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, co-sponsor of the bill, said the programs under the measure will not only strengthen the country's strategy for maternal, neonatal and child health, but more importantly, will shift the government's priority in crafting its policies in this area.

With its subsequent approval by the President, I believe that we are creating a sustainable strategy to address the health problems of young children, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent females, among others, he said.

It is our vision to inculcate prevention through a targeted approach and interventions provided at the different life stages of a child. The delivery of the services needed by them will be within reach and available in every local unit through capacitating our barangay health workers and nutrition volunteers, Ejercito said.

Meanwhile, Senator Grace Poe, one of the principal authors of the proposed measure, said the bill will provide a comprehensive health care program for pregnant and lactating women as well as for the health and nutrition of their newborn children, in every barangay.

With the passage of this measure, we are one step closer to achieving a 'life cycle' of social protection which covers all stages of human development. Sana ay maging ganap na batas ito sa lalong madaling panahon, Poe said.

Source: Philippine News Agency