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Originally published November 17, 2013 at 7:50 PM | Page modified November 18, 2013 at 6:05 AM

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Births in Philippines add strain in areas ravaged by typhoon

There are almost 25,000 women expected to give birth each month in the disaster area, which will strain an international relief effort that’s already facing logjams.

Bloomberg News

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MANILA — Rizza Jo Jaro, 18, went into labor in an evacuation center in Tacloban on Nov. 8 as Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the worst storms on record to hit land, ripped through the Philippine city in Eastern Visayas.

“My mother was whispering to my baby, ‘Don’t come out yet,’ ” Jaro said, recounting how storm surges flooded the shelter. “I was so scared and felt like all hope was lost.”

She doesn’t remember being transported by her parents to Tacloban’s airport, where a C-130 flew her the next day to a military base in Cebu, a staging ground for relief operations. Later that night, baby girl Haiyan Angel, named after the storm, was born. After spending time in the intensive-care unit for dehydration and low blood sugar, the baby is now fully recovered. She is one of the lucky ones.

Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines 10 days ago, knocking down most buildings including medical facilities, killing thousands, displacing 3.95 million people and affecting more than 10 million.

There are almost 25,000 women expected to give birth each month in the disaster area, which will strain an international relief effort that’s already facing logjams. The challenge may be compounded by disease brought on by a scarcity of clean water and poor sanitation.

“In crisis or not, women continue to deliver,” Sew Lun Genevieve Ah-Sue, country representative of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, said last week. “We have to therefore ensure that those services are there, in addition to food and water, of course.”

The U.N. said the typhoon killed at least 4,460 people, making it one of the deadliest in Philippine history. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s figure stood at 3,976 as of 6 p.m. Sunday.

There are about 222,000 pregnant women in areas hit by Haiyan, according to UNFPA data as of Nov. 15. Eastern Visayas, the hardest-hit region, has about 57,000 pregnant women, the second highest among nine regions monitored by UNFPA. Almost half of that would be in Leyte province, where Tacloban is located.

Eastern Visayas was the third-poorest of 17 Philippine regions in the first half of 2012, down from fifth-poorest in 2009, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.

Poverty incidence among families in the region, which includes the devastated Leyte and Samar areas, climbed to 37.2 percent in 2012 from 36.2 percent in 2009, and 33.3 percent in 2006.

Haiyan’s devastation is a further challenge to the nation’s maternal- and infant-health targets.

About 230 out of 100,000 women giving birth in the Philippines die, compared with 110 in Thailand, 62 in Malaysia and 14 in Singapore, according to the U.N. in April 2009.

While the National Statistics Office said that number had dropped to 221 in 2011, it was still four times more than the Philippines’ 2015 Millennium Development Goal of limiting maternal deaths to 55 to 60.

The Philippines narrowed infant mortality to 22 out of 1,000 live births in 2011 from 29 in 2003, according to the statistics office. The target is to reduce this to 19 by 2015.

UNFPA’s main goal is to identify pregnant women in devastated areas and offer them care, Ah-Sue said. “The difficulty is really trying to identify where they are because with the search for food and water, people are moving around,” she said.

“The challenge of public health is there” as survivors had no clean water or shelter for some days and are at risk from diarrhea, asthma, skin disease, pneumonia and rat-borne leptospirosis, Health Undersecretary Janette Garin said by phone Nov. 15. “You have children swimming in dirty water.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates 1.5 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition, and about 800,000 pregnant and lactating women are in need of nutritional support after Haiyan, according to a Nov. 15 statement.

As survivors of Haiyan rebuild their homes and put their lives back in order, UNFPA will also roll out an information campaign on family planning for couples who may prefer not to raise a child under “extraordinary circumstances,” Ah-Sue said.

“It will take some time for recovery, for them to rebuild and reclaim their lives.”

Birth control is a delicate subject in the predominantly Catholic country. President Benigno Aquino signed a bill into law last December to allow the government to distribute contraceptives to the poor and pursue sex education.

The Supreme Court in March stopped the law’s implementation amid objections from the church, and in July indefinitely extended a restraining order against it.

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