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Mistreated women during childbirth rise

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A mother and her new born baby at the National Health Center for Mother and Child, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. UN photo

More than a third of women surveyed across four lower-income countries, reported being mistreated during childbirth, a new study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed.

The study, published in The Lancet — an influential peer-reviewed science journal — was carried out in Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar and Nigeria, and found that 42 percent of the 2,016 women observed had experienced physical or verbal abuse, stigma or discrimination during labor and childbirth.

According to WHO, quality support, particularly from midwives for women in labor, can make the difference between life and death. Midwifery has been shown to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and stillbirth rates, by over 80 percent, and reduces pre-term labor and birth by 24 percent. Yet, more than 800 women still die every day during the process.

Younger, less-educated women were found to be most vulnerable to mistreatment, in the form of stigmatization, discrimination, undergoing medical procedures without consent; the use of force in procedures; or abandonment or neglect by health workers.

Some 14 percent of women experienced physical abuse in the form of being slapped, hit or punched, while others experienced non-consensual caesarean sections, and episiotiomies (surgical cuts to the vagina during childbirth) and vaginal examinations.

Interviews were also conducted with 2,672 women after giving birth, which indicated similar levels of mistreatment.

Researchers observed 35 cases of caesarean births conducted without the mother’s consent, along with 190 of 253 episiotomies reported, and 2,611 vaginal examinations, comprising 59 percent of the total.

Some 752 (38 percent) of the women in the study experienced some form of verbal abuse, whether being shouted at, scolded or mocked. Eleven women were targets of discrimination or stigma, on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

The health agency recommends a framework of strategies to ensure women are treated with compassion and dignity — from holding health systems accountable, to ensuring enough resources are available for quality health care and clear policies on women’s rights: Designing labor wards bearing in mind the needs of women; improving the informed consent process around medical interventions; upscaling mentorship and support to health workers to foster quality care and allowing all women the right to a companion during labor and childbirth.

WHO has urged professional associations to partake in promoting and supporting quality care among maternity providers, from obstetricians to midwives.

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SMC leading by example

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San Miguel Corp. president and CEO Ramon S. Ang. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SMC

With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) still showing no signs of slowing down, the government, along with concerned agencies and the private sector, is doing its best to ensure that the welfare of the public will still be prioritized despite the pandemic.

In this light, San Miguel Corporation is also extending a helping hand in the government’s pandemic response as its chief, SMC president and COO Ramon Ang, has spearheaded a quarterly blood and convalescent plasma donation drive across its facilities nationwide.

Marking the company’s 130th anniversary, SMC is responding to the urgent need of replenishing the blood supply at the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and contributing to the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“Fewer people are donating blood since the pandemic started to date, yet there is a growing demand for blood to be able to perform transfusions needed in emergent cases,” Ang said.

“I can’t think of a more meaningful way to mark San Miguel’s 130th anniversary than to help replenish the Philippine Red Cross’ blood bank. While we’re still dealing with a pandemic, many more non-COVID-19 patients are in need of blood to get the care they need,” he added.

The need for blood is of utmost importance in this time of the pandemic as it is commonly used in the treatment of cancer patients, accident victims and people with blood disorders. Dengue season has also set in, and PRC’s blood reserves also play a vital role in treating dengue patients.

“We just want to help in any way we can. This is a San Miguel group-wide effort that we will do every quarter. Our employees across the country are encouraged to donate. I believe, together, we can all make a difference,” Ang said.

The convalescent plasma from the blood of a COVID-19 survivor, on the other hand, is important as it was proven to be a valuable alternative therapy for patients still infected and battling the respiratory disease.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 and who volunteer to donate convalescent plasma have a unique ability to help up to three patients currently suffering from the virus.

“We feel very honored to be supporting and collaborating with the Philippine Red Cross and Senator Richard Gordon on their efforts to help not just COVID-19 patients but also the many other patients who require blood for various purposes. We hope that through this partnership we can contribute to efforts to save lives,” Ang said.

The drive was launched simultaneously via ZOOM in six different SMC facilities around the country.

Among these were the Purefoods Hormel Plant in General Trias, Cavite; the Manila Toll Expressway Systems Inc. facility in Silangan Laguna, San Miguel Brewery’s community clinics in San Fernando, Pampanga, Mandaue, Cebu, and Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, and the SMC Head Office Complex in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila.

Ang also donated blood simultaneously with PRC chairman and CEO Senator Gordon in their respective offices. The event was participated in by over 400 SMC employees.

Each participant underwent a physical assessment and blood and plasma screening by PRC prior to the launch.

“We also want to help address the stigma of testing positive for COVID-19. As we’ve seen, anyone can contract the virus. When you treat someone like an outcast just because they’ve contracted the virus, you not only treat that person unfairly, you make it less likely for people to come forward and test, or quarantine,” Ang said.

“I hope our employees who have recovered will donate plasma and see this as an opportunity to help others who are still fighting it,” he added.

Since March, when community quarantine restrictions were implemented across the country, SMC has led private sector response to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the health sector.

Out of the over P13 billion the company spent on COVID-19 efforts, P500 million was used to purchase personal protective equipment and various life-saving medical equipment. It also donated testing booths and kits to Metro Manila LGU.

The company has also spent close to P100 million to operate Better World EDSA, a COVID-19 testing lab dedicated to helping the country meet its expanded testing goals and ensuring a safer restart of the economy. It has also provided 5,000 medical frontliners in Cebu with life insurance worth P2 million each.

Ang also announced plans to build, through the RSA Foundation, a state-of-the-art hospital to better prepare the country’s health care system to deal with a health crisis. The hospital will specialize in research on infectious diseases and put special focus on providing outpatient care for disadvantaged Filipinos.

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Countries must ‘get their hands dirty’

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme is distributing electronic cash cards to 1,500 families in El Alto and La Paz, Bolivia.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has upended a world embroiled in chaos, unleashing catastrophic health, social and economic consequences along with irreparable harm to humanity, according to UN-backed report published recently.

“A World in Disorder,” issued by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent monitoring and accountability body which prepares for global health crises, notes that the coronavirus has killed close to a million people, impacting health systems, food supplies and economies.

“We can no longer wring our hands and say something must be done,” said Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“It’s time for countries to get their hands dirty and build the public health systems to ensure a pandemic of this magnitude and severity would never happen again,” he added.

According to “A World in Disorder,” it would take 500 years to spend as much on preparedness to equal what COVID-19 is costing the world, which GPMB says will be in the trillions.

Last year, the Board warned that the world was unprepared for a deadly pandemic and called for urgent action to break the cycle of panic and neglect that has characterized past responses to global health crises.

The new report provides a harsh assessment of the global COVID-19 response, calling it “a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness and response seriously and prioritize it accordingly.”

According to GPMB, “the world cannot afford this.”

In many countries, leaders have struggled to take early decisive action based on science, evidence and best practices, leading to a profound and deepening deficit in trust that is hampering response efforts, GPMB highlighted.

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Affordable, available vaccine sought

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The persisting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to top a long list of global concerns, the UN chief told journalists, noting that “the grimmest of milestones” is upon us.

“The outbreak remains out of control,” Secretary-General António Guterres declared in his press conference ahead of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) High Level Week, noting that soon one million lives will be “lost to the virus.”

Recognizing that many pin their hopes on a vaccine, he said, “Let’s be clear: there is no panacea in a pandemic.”

“A vaccine alone cannot solve this crisis, certainly not in the near term,” stressed the world’s top diplomat. “We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months.”

He emphasized that because the virus “respects no borders,” a vaccine must be seen as “a global public good,” affordable and available to all, but it requires “a quantum leap in funding”.

Moreover, people must be willing to be vaccinated, but a proliferation of misinformation on vaccines is fueling vaccine-hesitancy, and igniting wild conspiracy theories, noted the UN chief.

He spoke of “alarming reports” that large populations in various countries are reluctant or outright refusing to take a new coronavirus vaccine.

“In the face of this lethal disease, we must do our utmost to halt deadly misinformation,” affirmed the Secretary-General.

Guterres called for a global ceasefire back in March, recognizing the coronavirus as “the number one global security threat in our world today.”

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More research on coronavirus effects needed

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Scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group are making progress toward the discovery of a safe, effective and accessible vaccine against coronavirus.

More research is needed into factors that increase the risk of severe coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among children and adolescents, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) has said, adding that while children may have largely been spared many of the most severe effects, they have suffered in other ways.

Joining the heads of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined that since the start of the COVID pandemic, understanding its effects on children has been a priority.

“Nine months into the pandemic, many questions remain, but we are starting to have a clearer picture. We know that children and adolescents can be infected and can infect others,” he said.

“We know that this virus can kill children, but that children tend to have a milder infection and there are very few severe cases and deaths from COVID-19 among children and adolescents.”

According to WHO data, less than 10 percent of reported cases and less than 0.2 percent of deaths are of people under the age of 20. However, additional research is needed into the factors that put children and adolescents at an increased risk.

In addition, the potential long-term health effects in those who have been infected remain unknown.

Referring to closure of schools around the world, which has hit millions of children, impacting not only their education but also a range of other important services, the WHO Director-General said that the decision to close schools should be a last resort, temporary and only at a local level in areas with intense transmission.

The time during which schools are closed should be used for putting in place measures to prevent and respond to transmission when schools reopen.

“Keeping children safe and at school is not a job for schools alone or governments alone or families alone. It’s a job for all of us, working together,” Tedros said.

“With the right combination of measures, we can keep our kids safe and teach them that health and education are two of the most precious commodities in life,” he added.

Although children have largely been spared many of the most severe health effects of the virus, they have suffered in other ways, said Director-General Tedros, adding that closure of schools hit millions of children globally.

Given different situations among countries, some where schools have opened and others where they have not, UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO issued updated guidance on school-related public health measures in the context of COVID-19.

Based on latest scientific evidence, the guidance provides practical advice for schools in areas with no cases, sporadic cases, clusters of cases, or community transmission. They were developed with input from the Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Educational Institutions and COVID-19, established by the three UN agencies in June.

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Science, solidarity and solutions needed against climate change

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Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are at record levels and emissions that saw a temporary decline due to the pandemic are heading towards pre-COVID levels, while global temperatures continue to hit new highs, according to a major new United Nations (UN) report.

“United in Science 2020” highlights the increasing and irreversible impacts of climate change on glaciers, oceans, nature, economies and its cost on people across the globe; manifest more and more often through disasters such as record heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and floods.

Speaking at the launch of the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that there is “no time to delay” if the world is to slow the trend of the devastating impacts of climate change, and limit temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius.

“Whether we are tackling a pandemic or the climate crisis, it is clear that we need science, solidarity and decisive solutions,” Guterres said.

“We have a choice: business as usual, leading to further calamity; or we can use the recovery from COVID-19 to provide a real opportunity to put the world on a sustainable path,” he added.

The Secretary-General outlined six climate-related actions to shape the recovery from COVD-19, to ensure a sustainable future for coming generations.

The six actions include, delivering new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition; making public bailouts contingent upon green jobs and sustainable growth; shifting away from grey and towards green economy, making societies and people more resilient; channeling public fund investments into sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate; factoring in climate risks and opportunities into the financial system as well as in public policymaking and infrastructure; and lastly working together as an international community.

“As we work to tackle both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis, I urge leaders to heed the facts in this report, unite behind the science and take urgent climate action,” added Guterres, urging governments to prepare new and ambitious national climate plans, the Nationally Determined Contributions, in advance of COP26.

“That is how we will build a safer, more sustainable future.”

In one of its key findings, the report states that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations showed “no signs of peaking” and continued to increase to new records.

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Safer homes provided by SMC

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Houses for Sitio Kinse residents are being built by San Miguel Corporation. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SMC

San Miguel Corporation continues its share of helping out those who are in need especially now that the country is facing the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, as it gave out lump sum cash assistance to former settlers of Barangay Taliptip.

These settlers are now also moving to their new homes — while many other homes are about to be completed as the lump sum allowed them to voluntarily relocate to safer areas, paving the way for the construction of the P734 billion Manila International Airport project.

SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang said the company has been constantly in touch with the former settlers in the coastal area where the airport will be built to monitor their progress.

“Many have already completed building their houses. What is important is that they are now living in safer areas, in stronger houses they can be proud of and pass on to their children. They will no longer be exposed to the elements and to risk whenever there are typhoons,” Ang said.

The SMC chief said while the company has been known for building housing communities for disaster victims or relocates them from hazard zones, many Taliptip residents preferred to receive financial assistance.

This has also enabled them to voluntarily transfer to places of their choice, with some choosing to go back to their home provinces to build homes and start life anew there.

Still, others opted to buy built houses or land to build their own houses. Many have opted to remain in Bulacan.

Most of the former Taliptip residents worked as caretakers or workers at privately-owned fishponds that have gone out of business. They used to live in shanties or houses built on stilts in the coastal area.

Teody Bacon, who resides in Sitio Kinse with five other families, said he and his neighbors are looking forward to moving out and moving into their newly-constructed houses in Barangay Bambang, also in Bulakan town, later this month.

Unlike in their current dwelling place, where there is no access to electricity, clean water and basic services, Bacon said they are moving to a place with better living conditions.

Ang added that those who were even more prudent in spending the cash assistance have used some of the amount to start their own small businesses, pay off debts, and set aside money for the education of their children.

“They are very happy that they were given a chance to rebuild their lives. If you see their previous homes, you can’t help but feel sad, but at the same time, also admire them for their strength and resilience. All the more we wanted to help them and make sure they will really have a better future,” Ang said.

A total of 277 owners of concrete and shanty houses in Barangay Taliptip qualified for financial assistance. SMC provided owners of non-concrete houses or shanties P250,000 each, while owners of concrete houses were given the appraised value of their homes, multiplied by two, plus P100,000.

SMC also provided cash assistance to 92 others who were disqualified, for a total of 369 beneficiaries.

Upon the request of Malolos Bishop Dennis Villarojo, SMC also distributed the total appraised cash value of the abandoned chapels in Sitio Pariyahan, Sitio Dapdap, Sitio Bunutan and Sitio Capol to the residents of these sitios. A total of P2,253,000 from the abandoned chapels was given to the 242 residents.

Although many decided to stay in Bulacan, some former settlers have moved back to their home provinces, namely Samar, Negros, Nueva Ecija, Sorsogon, Mindoro, Masbate, Camarines Sur, Malabon, Bataan, Valenzuela, Paranaque, Dumaguete and Albay.

Those who have opted to stay in Bulacan are also being given the opportunity to learn skills they can use to get jobs at the airport, or to start their own small business.

“The airport project itself will be an opportunity for them because it will create a lot of jobs. And right now, we are prioritizing them for these jobs. In fact, we are about to begin training the first batch of 60 former Taliptip residents, with the help of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, in various skills needed for jobs at the airport,” Ang said.

Among the courses they can choose from for airport jobs are shielded metal arc welding, electrical installation and maintenance, and heavy equipment operations.

Courses like dressmaking and cookery are also offered for those who opt to put up their own small businesses. In addition to their chosen courses, all trainees will also be given seminars on Entrepreneurship, as well as tools to start them on their new trades.

He also noted that the courses will not be limited to Taliptip residents but will be extended to all residents of Bulacan.

“These courses are open to Bulacan residents who wish to learn and those who would like to prepare themselves for jobs at the airport or establish businesses in support of the airport development. Our goal is to provide as much employment and livelihood to as many Bulakenyos as part of our commitment to the airport’s home province,” Ang said.

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COVID threatens to undo years of ‘remarkable progress’

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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) threatens to undo decades of hard-fought progress in reducing deaths of children under the age of five, United Nations (UN) agencies have warned, calling on countries to ensure vital health services for children and women do not falter amid the global crisis.

The number of global under-five deaths dropped to its lowest point on record in 2019 — down to 5.2 million, from 12.5 million in 1990. However, there are fears the numbers could rise on the back of COVID-induced disruptions to child and maternal health services, new estimates released indicate.

Services experiencing disruptions include health checkups, vaccinations, and prenatal and post-natal care. Reasons include resource constraints and a general uneasiness with using health services due to a fear of getting COVID-19, according to the UN agencies.

Over the past 30 years, health services to prevent or treat causes of child death such as preterm, low birth weight, complications during birth, neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, as well as vaccination, have played a large role in saving millions of lives, added the agencies.

The estimates, contained in the report “Levels and Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2020,” were issued by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the World Bank Group.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, recalled the feat and outlined the challenges.

“The fact that today more children live to see their first birthday than any time in history is a true mark of what can be achieved when the world puts health and well-being at the center of our response,” he said.

“Now, we must not let the COVID-19 pandemic turn back remarkable progress for our children and future generations. Rather, it’s time to use what we know works to save lives, and keep investing in stronger, resilient health systems.”

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‘Essential lessons’ from HIV fight boost response

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The Red Ribbon — symbol of global campaign to combat HIV-AIDS.

Decades of global experience in tackling AIDS can help countries respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a new United Nations (UN) report has revealed.

The study by UNAIDS, the UN agency working to stamp out HIV and AIDS, outlines how the world can leverage and build resilient health systems that address both pandemics.

“Our decades-long fight against HIV offers essential lessons. By heeding those lessons and working together, we can ensure that national health responses deliver on the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the health and well-being of all,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

The report is entitled “COVID-19 and HIV: 1 moment, 2 epidemics, 3 opportunities — how to seize the moment to learn, leverage and build a new way forward for everyone’s health and rights.”

It reveals how key lessons learned in combating HIV can support accelerated action against COVID-19 without jeopardizing ongoing response to HIV and other health emergencies, thus providing a “unique opportunity” to reimagine systems for health, according to UNAIDS chief Winnie Byanyima.

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Serious knowledge needed for sepsis infections battle

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Efforts to tackle sepsis, which can damage multiple organs and result in death, are hampered by “serious gaps in knowledge,” particularly in low- and middle-income countries, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Citing “recent studies,” WHO revealed that sepsis kills 11 million people each year, many of them children and disables millions of others.

“The world must urgently step up efforts to improve data about sepsis so all countries can detect and treat this terrible condition in time,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Against the backdrop that most studies had been conducted in the hospitals and intensive care units of high-income countries — with little evidence from the rest of the world — WHO underscored the “urgent need” for better data.

Furthermore, different definitions of sepsis, diagnostic criteria and hospital discharge coding, compound the difficultly in developing a clear understanding of the true global burden of this life-threatening infection.

“This means strengthening health information systems and ensuring access to rapid diagnostic tools, and quality care including safe and affordable medicines and vaccine,” the top WHO official spelled out.

Sepsis occurs in response to an infection. When it is not recognized early and managed promptly, it can lead to septic shock, multiple organ failure and death, according to the UN health agency.

And patients who are critically ill with severe COVID-19 and other infectious diseases are at higher risk of developing and dying from it.

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