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DOH: We will champion reproductive health

In the clearest statement by the Aquino administration yet on reproductive health, Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona on Monday expressed the government’s support for artificial contraceptives among the range of choices offered to couples. “I call for the acceleration of efforts that shall champion reproductive health," he told a gathering of mostly reproductive health (RH) advocates to celebrate World Population Day. His statement was greeted with applause.
Health Secretary Ona said the new administration will support a population policy that will help prevent unwanted pregnancies. Candice Montenegro
When asked later if those efforts included government funds for artificial contraceptives in government health centers, he replied in the affirmative and indicated these would be among a “cafeteria of choices" that would also include the church-endorsed “natural family planning method." Under pressure from the Catholic Church, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo prohibited the Department of Health (DOH) from buying and distributing artificial contraceptives, which include condoms, birth control pills, and IUDs, in 2001, the year she assumed office. Arroyo then left it up to local government executives whether to fund family planning in public health centers, with money provided by the DOH. Some like Quezon City made up for it with aggressive reproductive health services, while others such as the city of Manila under Mayor Lito Atienza banned condoms in health centers. A reproductive health bill that would have required the national government to offer artificial contraceptives to the public and made sex education in public schools mandatory died in Congress after opposition from the church and its legislative allies. Church representatives have often equated contraceptives with abortion. During the campaign, President Aquino was careful to endorse only “responsible parenthood," less loaded words than reproductive health, and stressed that sex education was mostly a responsibility of parents. Health Secretary Ona, a surgeon who headed the National Kidney and Transplant Institute before his appointment, didn’t mince words. He promised a “population policy that prevents abortion and unwanted pregnancies." In an interview, he said that an array of choices that include artificial contraceptives was “the fairest way to do it." “Then when you are informed as a family or as a couple, then the couple can decide," he said. He added that the administration will support sex education despite church opposition. “To me, it’s how it’s presented, the way it is taught. It has to be taught in the context of our culture… and I think we can sit down with the church.’ He said that he has spoken with President Aquino about reproductive health and “the President is supportive." Among those who welcomed Ona's statement was Dr. Edelina P. Dela Paz, the executive director of Health Action Information Network, who said she hoped what Ona meant was "universal access (to RH services) for all, including adolescents, including those who are not married but who do need the services. It should be available to all," she said. – Howie Severino/VS, GMANews.TV