Sulu provincial officials led by Gov. Sakur Tan and his deputy, Nur-Ana Sahidulla during the launching of the Reproductive Health Code March 27, 2008 in Sulu province. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
SULU (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 01, 2008) – Philippine health officials and non-government organizations advocating health and women’s rights praised Sulu province for passing the Reproductive Health Code.
Sulu is the first to pass an ordinance on reproductive health in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and the international nongovernmental organization called Save the Children (STC) also hailed Sulu province for the passing of the Reproductive Health Code.
“We are happy that finally Sulu had embraced Reproductive Health and RH Code is the living testimony to this,” Florence Tayzon, UNFPA Assistant Country Representative, said during the recent launching of the Reproductive Health Code.
Sulu is one of five provinces under the ARMM where birth control is not being widely practiced.
“It is UNFPA’s hope that more provincial governments in Mindanao will follow the example of Sulu province,” Tayson said.
UNFPA has three major projects in the country Reproductive Health, Population Development Strategies and Gender which all the programs were embodied in the Sulu RH Code.
The UN project is currently working in on 10 provinces in the country, namely; Ifugao, Bohol, Eastern Samar, Masbate , Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Lanao Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
It was UNFPA’s first visit to Sulu since the program has started in 2005, but because Sulu has always been tainted with conflict, UN security assessment prevented UN workers to visit Sulu.
But Sulu has changed a lot and its peace and order improved tremendously since philanthropist Sakur Tan was elected this year as governor of the province of more than 700,000 Muslims.
Tan has introduced reforms in governance and prioritized peace, trade and tourism to attract investments in Sulu.
Tayson said “our coming here (in Sulu) is an indication that peace is changing and improving”.
Aside from Tayson, Dr. Edwin Ylagan, Health Manager of the Save the Children, a leading international relief and development organization, also praised the local Reproductive Health Code and vowed to support efforts of the province to promote the new ordinance.
Sulu Vice Gov Nur-Ana Sahidulla in a briefing said the ordinance is aimed at addressing various reproductive health concerns of the province of Sulu, including but not limited to, high population growth rate (at 3.15%), high maternal deaths (with 102 deaths recorded in 2006 due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth), high infant mortality rate (64 infants below 12 months died out of 11,824 live births), high unmeet need for family planning, unavailability of FP commodities, rising STI cases, and rising violence against women and children (VAWC) cases (89 reported cases in 2006).
”There is a need for improved access to contraceptives and other reproductive health supplies in order to help break the cycle of poverty and early deaths of mothers and children,” she said.
Sulu is one of the ten poorest provinces in the country. In 2000, more than two-thirds of its population is below the poverty threshold (67.7%). Aside from chronic poverty, the province is also wracked by violent conflicts, more recent of which were the series of kidnappings and hostage-taking activities by the Abu Sayyaf group, according to a report by the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO).
It said the effect of armed conflict in the province manifests in its mortality pattern. The top 10 causes of mortality in Sulu include legal intervention by firearms, hypertension, diarrhea disease, pneumonia, myocardial infarction, pulmonary tuberculosis, malnutrition, accidents/injury, cancer, and malaria.
Dr. Farah Omar, IPHO chief, said guns or gunshots are still the top cause of mortality among males in Sulu, while hypertension is the leading cause of mortality in females.
On the other hand, she said, the top 10 causes of morbidity; include upper respiratory tract infection, skin diseases (infections), diarrhea, malaria, influenza, pneumonia, parasitism, hypertensive disease, bronchitis, and mucus-related diseases.
Sulu also held the First Women Forum in the town of Patikul, where Tan vowed to support gender and development programs. With the theme “Responsible Tausug Women for Ecologically Sustainable development,” Tan urged the women to form cooperatives and be more productive.
“Women are very dedicated and productive and I encourage all of you to continue working hard and be a role model of success,” he said. “Women can be great leaders, just like our President Gloria Arroyo or become the likes of (former British leader) Margaret Thatcher and many more great women leaders. We can empower our women to help in nation building.”
More than 100 women professionals attended the forum held at the Area Coordinating Center. Sulu’s First Lady Nurunisah Tan and Provincial Board Member Nurhata Salahuddin were among those who helped organized the forum which was also participated by educator Norma Abdullah and other prominent women leaders.