The Philippines, KOICA, UN agencies launch 2 mobile health clinics to reduce adolescent pregnancies in Samar, Southern Leyte

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TACLOBAN, 16 May, 2024 – In a significant step towards improving adolescent health and curbing adolescent pregnancies in Eastern Visayas, the United Nations, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) turned over two adolescent-friendly mobile health facilities that will be offering free medical services to Samar and Southern Leyte provincial governments.

The mobile health facilities, dubbed TrucKABATAAN, are part of the Joint Programme on Accelerating the Reduction of Adolescent Pregnancy in Southern Leyte and Samar in the Philippines, a collaborative effort supported by the Korean Government through KOICA, in partnership with the Philippine Government, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization. The programme is estimated to potentially benefit 275,000 adolescents.

“Reducing teenage pregnancies is a key goal for the Philippine government – a goal that the United Nations and our partners are committed to help achieve by mobilizing knowledge, resources, and opportunities to better enable youth in the Philippines to reach their full potential. These mobile health facilities provide accessible health services that are key to empowering young people,” said Gustavo Gonzalez, United Nations  Philippines Resident Coordinator.

This program comes in response to the pressing issue of adolescent pregnancy in the Philippines, which has been declared a national priority. While the Philippine Statistics Authority reported a slight decline in teenage fertility rates nationally (from 8.6% in 2017 to 5.4% in 2022), the number of adolescent mothers aged 10-19 continues to rise, particularly those in the worrying younger age bracket of 10-14.

“I would like to remind everyone that KOICA stands with you in safeguarding and improving adolescent health and well-being. This year, we are celebrating the 75 years of Philippines-Korea diplomatic relations and the 30th anniversary of KOICA in the Philippines. These historical occasions give us the momentum to intensify our assistance to the country. We assure you that KOICA will continue to strongly support you for a realized comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights of Filipino adolescents and reduced adolescent pregnancies,” said KOICA Country Director KIM Eunsub.

Besides being one of the Philippines’ poorest and most typhoon-battered regions, the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study showed that Eastern Visayas, where Samar and Southern Leyte are located, has one of the highest rates of 15 to 19-year-old female youths that had begun childbearing. The regions had the highest percentage of female teenagers who were currently pregnant at the time of the survey.

“Over the past years, we have implemented various programs, projects, and strategies aimed at reducing adolescent pregnancy in the region. With the Universal Health Care Act, all stakeholders have been diligently working and putting in every effort and system in place to fully implement and realize Universal Health Care in the region. While there is still much to be done, we are making significant progress. Today, we are one step closer towards our goal of ensuring that every Filipino has equitable access to quality and affordable healthcare services. Through this mobile clinic, we will be bringing essential health services directly to the doorsteps of our young people. From sexual and reproductive health education to maternal and child health services, TrucKABATAAN will provide comprehensive support tailored to the unique needs of adolescents,” said Eastern Visayas Center for Health Development Regional Director Exuperia B. Sabalberino.

The partners are working closely with the Department of Health, the Department of Education, and the governors of Samar and Southern Leyte, as well as other government agencies in rolling out adolescent-friendly services through the TrucKABATAAN, building the capacity of community adolescent health service providers, accelerating the integration of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, implementing youth leadership and governance initiatives, and conducting research on adolescent pregnancy and child, early, and forced marriage.

“Pregnancy can be a beautiful journey, but for adolescents, it should not be part of their journey! Adolescence is a crucial time for personal growth, education, and development, and pregnancy can significantly disrupt these processes. The health-related risks are real! Adolescent mothers face higher risks of medical complications during pregnancy and childbirth compared to adult women. We must ensure access to quality healthcare and education to protect their health, prevent complications, and empower them to reach their full potential,” said UNFPA Philippines Country Representative Dr. Leila Saiji Joudane.

Adolescent pregnancy can result in anemia, sexually transmitted infections, unsafe abortions, postpartum hemorrhage, and mental health disorders. It can also exacerbate maternal undernutrition, resulting in low-birth-weight infants and childhood stunting. This perpetuates a cycle of malnutrition across generations.

“All adolescents have the right to good health and well-being. Investing in adolescents’ health builds strong economies, inclusive communities and vibrant societies. Adolescent-centred approaches such as these mobile clinics put young people at the heart of the solution and give them opportunities to access key services and participate meaningfully in their communities,” said UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

“We must strengthen and sustain our collaboration to effectively prevent adolescent pregnancy. Adolescent pregnancy is a public health concern that requires whole-of-society efforts that involve families, service providers, schools, faith- and community-based organizations, policymakers, and youth. We hope these mobile facilities will be able to bring services much closer to those in need at any time, anywhere,” said Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, WHO Representative to the Philippines.

The program aims to bridge the gap in access to quality healthcare services for adolescents, particularly those residing in remote or underserved areas. A medical team will travel with the mobile clinics, visiting young people aged 10-19 in at least 20 local government units in Southern Leyte and Samar. They will provide:

  • compassionate & confidential care
  • holistic healthcare: Attend to physical, mental, sexual/reproductive, and nutritional needs of adolescents,
  • education and empowerment: Equip adolescents with health knowledge for informed decision-making,
  • early intervention & prevention: Provide screenings, counseling, and assessments to reduce risks,
  • community engagement.

Among the features of the TrucKABATAAN are:

  • air-conditioned adolescent-friendly rooms, including one with a medical bed, where adolescents can access services with confidentiality;
  • audio-visual system for information sessions;
  • laboratory equipment and supplies for basic diagnostic tests such as complete blood count, blood typing, urinalysis and stool examination, screening for HIV, syphilis and Hepatitis B;
  • solar panel for power during emergencies or when in off-grid areas; and
  • satellite Internet connectivity.

The local government will also provide a driver, administrative staff, a medical team composed of a doctor, nurse, midwife, medical technician, social worker, and peer educator.

Young people from Eastern Visayas last year co-created the trucks’ exterior design and recommended features to make it appealing to their peers. #

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