Health and Nutrition






© UNICEF Philippines/2008/Francia
Mark and Sheryl Tabhan, two health care workers in a small town in Antique, lost a child to severe pneumonia.


In line with its commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015, the Philippine Government seeks to reduce child mortality (or under-5 deaths) by two-thirds to 27 per 1,000 live births (MDG 4), and maternal mortality by three-quarters to 52 per 1,000 live births (MDG 5).

In the Philippines, the number of under-5 deaths has been halved in the past twenty years, making the MDG 4 target reachable. However, reaching this target is threatened by the very slow decline in neonatal or newborn deaths, i.e, deaths of babies in the first month of life .In the 20-year period from 1998 to 2008, the neonatal mortality rate went down by only two percentage points, while under-5 deaths dropped by 46%. Half of Filipino children who die before their fifth birthday are newborns. 

Deaths among children below 5 remain highest in the poorest sectors of society, in rural areas, and among families with low educational status. The inequities in child and maternal health are most profound in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas of the country but are also to be found in urban settings where areas populated by informal settlers are on the rise.

Meanwhile, data reveal that the Philippines may not reach its MDG 5 target because of the slow reduction in maternal deaths at only 22 per cent, way below the 75 per cent target.  This is caused by various factors, such as poor health practices, lack of access to information, financial or geographical barriers, and weak child-service delivery systems, among others.

As a result, an estimated 11 women die every day in from complications of childbirth. Most maternal deaths occur due to extensive bleeding, obstructed labor and widespread infection. There is a clear trend that more maternal deaths are seen among poor women and those who had little or no education. Many of these could be prevented if more women had access to health services and and would seek care with skilled birth attendants.


Under-nutrition in the Philippines remains a serious problem. The damage to health, physical growth and brain development of children affected by chronic under-nutrition—stunting in the first two years—is often irreversible, impairing them for life and leaving them with lower chances of finishing school and becoming highly-productive adults. Stunting, iron and iodine deficiencies impact learning abilities and intelligence of children. Studies show that populations affected by iodine deficiency have 10 - 15 IQ points less than those not affected.

The nutrition status of Filipino children and pregnant women varies greatly, with higher income groups having advantage over the poorest revealing major disparities across the country. These gaps reflect disparities in energy and nutrient intake between children from the affluent and poor households.

Available data show large numbers of Filipino children are undernourished: 3.6 million of children 0-59 months are underweight; and 4 million are stunted. Although this figure has decreased in the two past decades, it is not fast enough to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the number of underweight children by half until 2015. Moderate - severe iodine deficient population increased from 11% to 20% for children 6-12 years, 24% to 34% for lactating women and 18% to 26% for pregnant women between 2003 and 2008. Anaemia prevalence stagnated above WHO cut-off point for significant public health problem between 2003 and 2008: prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women was 43.9 per cent in 2003 and 42.5 per cent in 2008, and 55.7 per cent of children aged 6 to 11 month were anemic in 2008.

Children are affected not only because of the lack of food. Their lives are also placed at risk by poor feeding and care practices, poor health conditions of pregnant and breastfeeding women, lack of access to health services, and unsanitary conditions. According to 2011 National Nutrition Results, only 52 per cent are breastfed within one hour of delivery; 47 per cent of children 0-6 months are exclusively; 45 per cent of children 6-23 months are breastfed, and fed with adequate and safe nutritious complementary food.

The window of opportunity for addressing undernutrition along the continuum of care from pregnancy to the first two years of a child’s life and from community level to hospital level. This involves action in four areas: Infant and young child feeding (IYCF); (b) Micronutrient supplementation and food fortification; (c) Integrated management of acute malnutrition (IMAM); and (d) Ensuring care and hygiene practices.  





Real lives

Seven mothers sit in a circle outside a rural health centre. “I breastfeed my baby because I want him free of sickness,” says one.
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