Despite the effects of COVID-19 to the country’s health system, many Filipinos were still able to avail themselves of family planning (FP) and HIV prevention services due to harmonized interventions and quick responses from national and local government and development partners.

In support of FP services delivery, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), rolled out the harmonized FP communication plans maximizing online communication and digital platforms. This includes a series of online campaigns launched in celebration of the National Family Planning Month this August within the context of sexual and reproductive health during health crises, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), informed choice and responsible parenthood, and adolescent health and development.

Moreover, the DOH and USAID assisted 146 government hospitals in establishing their FP programs addressing the needs of postpartum women interested to practice FP right after delivery.

In 2020, the DOH allotted around P410 million for the procurement of FP commodities—a 33-percent hike from previous year’s budget allotment. POPCOM augmented the commodity requirements in the same period. As a result, the country’s FP users in 2020 increased by 460,000—up by 6-percent from the previous year’s users, which brought the total to around 8.1 million, according to the DOH. New acceptors of FP also increased by 43 percent, despite a number of dropouts caused by the series of lockdowns and quarantines nationwide.

Looking after people living with HIV (PLHIV)

During the enforcement of community quarantines, the country’s HIV program adopted innovative approaches to ensure continuous delivery of essential services to patients. The program also provided access to antiretroviral (ARV) drug refills even for transient patients, employing client-centered approaches for pick-up and delivery of this HIV medication, such as use of available courier services, government vehicles, transport network vehicle services, and home delivery.

Regional HIV Helplines were  established for various referral needs of displaced and stranded PLHIVs within and outside the respective regions operated by community-based organizations. In 2020, the DOH designated 56 primary HIV care facilities and 107 treatment hubs, or a total of 163 facilities nationwide, to provide HIV services, including free antiretroviral drugs. Program implementers are also expected to support HIV treatment facility expansion this year through continuous provision of quality services and appropriate use of the PhilHealth Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment funds package.

In the pipeline

Continuing the forward momentum of the agencies on FP programs and HIV prevention in the backdrop of COVID-19, the DOH, POPCOM and USAID are set to roll out more innovative communication initiatives which will encourage more Filipino couples to seek FP information and services. One of these efforts is a video, which will be turned into TV and radio advertisements. The video was launched during the “Usap Tayo sa Family Planning” experts’ joint online dialogue with the DOH and POPCOM on Wednesday August 18.

According to the DOH, the new communication campaign materials take a “fresh and positive spin” on FP through song and dance. The catchy lyrics are designed to address fears and anxieties that are barriers to FP use, as found out by USAID-supported formative research.

Regarding overall developments on FP and HIV prevention in the country, POPCOM Executive Director  Juan Antonio Perez III said, “The pandemic heavily bore down on our medical and health-care systems, especially those directly involving FP delivery and HIV services. However, the collective energies of government institutions and their allied institutions did not succumb to the challenges of the times. Together with the leadership of the DOH and the USAID, I call on all our partners to press on with our work at hand, so that we can continue to further improve the quality of lives of the Filipino families whom we are mandated to serve.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom over the globe, the utter enormity of its scale has impacted even the reproductive behaviors of the Filipino individuals, thus it is paramount that we ensure that family planning services and other essential sexual and reproductive health services are continually accessible by the public,” said Secretary of Health Francisco T. Duque III.

“These health services need to continue both in the community and in health facilities. However, more than that, we need to take the steps necessary to promote greater openness towards these topics surrounding family planning. Through conversations, we ultimately create awareness on the importance and benefits of family planning in promoting overall health and well-being of the population. May we be relentless in our pursuit of stimulating open discussions that promote Masayang Pamilya and Healthy Pilipinas,” he further remarked.