Sen. Sonny Angara
Senator Sonny Angara was the representative of Aurora Province for nine years before he was elected senator in 2013. He is now the chairman of the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means.
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As an early Christmas gift to Filipino families, President Duterte signed the First 1,000 Days Law or the “Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act” (RA 11148). The law mandates the national government to focus more on improving the overall health and well-being of new mothers and their babies. As a principal author and co-sponsor of the measure, we see this as an urgent response to the long-standing problem of malnutrition in the country, especially among our children.
The country already failed to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of decreasing the number of underweight children under 5 years old by 50 percent. In 1990, 27.3 percent of Filipino children under 5 years old were underweight. Twenty-five years later, we’ve brought down that percentage to only 21.5 percent—a far cry from the 13.6 percent MDG target.
A few years ago, a report by Inter-Agency Regional Analyst Network (IARAN) and the Action Against Hunger ranked the Philippines ninth (9th) in the world among countries with alarming rates of childhood stunting. The report found out that more than 3 million children in the country—or roughly 3 out of 10—were stunted or were short for their age.
High underweight and stunting numbers are indications of the chronic malnutrition that remains prevalent in the country. According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), chronic malnutrition has increased from 30.5 percent in 2013 to 33.5 percent in 2015.
This is alarming for victims of childhood stunting and other forms of early malnutrition face a lifetime of disadvantages. For instance, a 2016 study by the DOH, the National Nutrition Council (NNC) and UNICEF showed that up to US$ 2 billion in future adult productivity are lost due to these problems.
Often, problems associated with malnutrition start at the womb. In the Philippines, mothers remain at high risk during pregnancy. For instance, studies have calculated that there were 221 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2011. While the combined estimates from the WHO, UNICEF, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank and the UN Population Division reports that the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in the country has decreased to 114 in 2015, this is still more than half of our MDG goal of only 52 deaths per 100,000 live births.
All these underscore how critical the enactment of First 1,000 Days Law is to the long-term growth and prosperity of our country. The first 1,000 days of life—starting from conception until a child’s second birthday—are considered an extremely vital period for human development. UNICEF experts called this period the brain’s window of opportunity “when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neuro development across the lifespan are established.” Meanwhile, in a 2015 report, the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) underscored that getting the proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days is incredibly crucial for a child’s physical growth.
Through the First 1,000 Days Law, a whole arsenal of health and nutrition services fully supported by the government will be made available to ensure that pregnant women, mothers and their newborns are at their optimum health. This includes pregnancy tracking and enrollment to antenatal care services; maternal immunization including tetanus and diphtheria toxoid vaccine; maternal nutrition counseling; and provision of micronutrient supplements such as iron, folic acid, calcium and iodine. Even services for postpartum and lactating women shall be made available through this measure.
Infants and young children will also be provided with routine immunization, micronutrient supplements and dietary supplementation of age-appropriate and nutrient-dense quality complementary food among others. More importantly, the law will enable the prioritization of the delivery of health and nutrition services and psychosocial services interventions in areas that are affected by disasters and emergency situations.
We believe that through the new law, cases of malnutrition, undernutrition, stunting and child deaths will dramatically drop— hopefully sooner rather than later.
January 2019 Health and Lifestyle