The Philippines has a very young population. Adolescence is thought to be the healthiest stage of the life cycle, but in this country statistics defy this common observation.
A study by Dr. Corazon M. Raymundo reveals that at least one-third of the 475,000 abortions in the country are attributed to women aged 15-24 years old. Three out of four maternal deaths are from the adolescent group.
Many of the health problems of adolescents are lifestyle-related. About 13 percent of adolescents have thought of committing suicide. More than half of unsuccessful suicide incidents involved the slashing of wrists. About 11 percent of the youth have tried illegal drug substances. The most commonly used illegal drugs are marijuana, rugby, shabu, ecstasy and cough syrup.
According Dr. Raymundo, reproductive health is an important aspect of adolescent health. Threats to adolescent reproductive health include early and unprotected premarital sexual activity, early pregnancy and childbirth, abortion, rape, violence and sexual harassment.
Premarital sex is increasing in the Philippines. The study shows that 20 percent of premarital sex occurs among high school students. Many first sexual encounters are not planned or wanted. Most sexual experiences are unprotected.
Substantial numbers of young people have reproductive health problems but they are not seeking medical help. Painful menstruation among girls and painful urination among boys are the most commonly reported ailments. Sexually active youth have more such problems. One-third of these boys and girls have experienced sexually transmitted infections.
Dr. Raymundo notes that those who smoke, drink, and use drugs are more likely to have sex. Premarital sex is most strongly linked with drug use. This shows that risky behaviors do not occur in isolation, rather they are interconnected.
It is also alarming that many teenagers think AIDS can be cured and still a large percentage thinks they are not vulnerable to AIDS. The government should also look into persistent rumors that AIDS cases are on the rise among call center workers.
Dr. Raymundo reminds the public that teenage pregnancy is another cause for concern because of the special situation of young women in society. By age 18, about 10 percent of teenagers have been pregnant already. The figure rises to 25 percent by age 20.
There is a higher risk that a teenage pregnancy will lead to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and low birth weight. The baby of a teenage mother is four times more likely to die.
Dr. Raymundo appeals to various stakeholders to help in reducing teenage pregnancy and the negative outcomes of such pregnancy. There is need to create a physical and cultural environment favorable to the promotion of adolescent health. This should lead to a decentralized structure, reduction of mortality and morbidity caused by early sexual activity, sexually transmitted infections, drug use and other risky behaviors.
The government should draft a program on adolescent reproductive health that will integrate sexuality education and fertility awareness in the school curriculum. It should tackle teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS, among other issues.
If the government is amenable to including climate change in the curriculum, why does it continue to object to reproductive health education for students? Unwanted pregnancy and other adolescent problems are serious threats to the well-being and future of the people.
Amending the AIDS Law is important too, since it is silent on the rights protection and provisions for children affected by HIV and AIDS. Girl children are the most affected by these diseases. The amendment should incorporate concerns for special treatment of children with HIV.
Stakeholders should motivate the youth, communities, opinion leaders, political and religious authorities to adopt favorable attitudes vis a vis promotion of youth health. Initiatives should promote the idea that sexual development is an inevitable, normal and important part of adolescent development.
Extra effort should be applied in engaging the powerful Catholic Church and other conservative forces in the "pro-life" camp. Many sectors of Philippine society still consider sex and sexuality as taboo issues. Dr. Raymundo is frustrated that healthy adolescent sexuality is still regarded as promiscuity. She also identified the "moral panic" about sexuality especially with regards to sexuality education and homosexuality.
The Catholic hierarchy is the single biggest stumbling block as to why the Philippines has not yet legislated a comprehensive reproductive health program that would greatly benefit women, youth, children and the people in general. Political parties are afraid to antagonize the influential clerics who could instruct the faithful to disobey public officials and even defeat the electoral chances of obstinate politicians.
There is a shortage of condoms and political will in the Philippines. Politicians and civil society groups should reject the fundamentalist position of the Catholic Church by addressing the rights and needs of the people. Government should provide free reproductive health services, improve maternal health care, offer contraceptive choices and promote fertility education. This is the more genuine "pro-life" position with regards to the population issue.