Drs. Rey de los Reyes,
Merlita U. Awit
& Jose Melchor Sescon
Dr. Rey de los Reyes is currently the Chairperson of the Department of OB-GYN of the Far Eastern University and also teaches and mentors medical students in the University’s School of Medicine. He used to be the Department Chair at Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, a teaching-training hospital under the Department of Health located in Manila. For several years, Dr. De los Reyes has been actively involved with the Philippine Obstetrical & Gynecological Society as an officer and member of the Board of Trustees.
Dr. Merlita Awit is the District President of the Quezon City Medical Society, the biggest component society of the Philippine Medical Association, which is the largest professional organization of medical professionals in the country. Dr. Awit had previously worked as the Executive Director of the Women's Health Care Foundation, one of the oldest non-governmental organizations providing reproductive health services and information in poor areas of Manila and served as resource speakers in various forums on Family Planning, Emergency Contraception, Cancer prevention and Adolescent RH.
Dr. Jose Narciso Sescon has long been engaged in HIV/AIDS activities in the Philippines. He served as the Executive Director of the Remedios AIDS Foundation for more than a decade and spearheaded several successful advocacy campaigns, including the creation of a clinic in Manila and the establishment of phone counseling services. Dr. Sescon is currently the President of the AIDS Society of the Philippines. This is the leading association of individuals from government, non-government agencies, and private sector with a common unifying interest in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.
Drs. Rey de los Reyes, Merlita U. Awit, and Jose Melchor Sescon are all practicing Obstetricians and Gynecologists actively involved in reproductive health work within the Philippines and have been instrumental in the formal creation of the Women's Reproductive Health Advocacy Committee within the Philippines Obstetric and Gynecological Society (POGS). These three Leadership Fellows joined together to conduct a nation-wide survey on knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) on reproductive health among OB/GYN practitioners in the Philippines.
This collaborative effort was made possible by a mini-grant from LDM and a strong endorsement from POGS. With more than 3,000 members, POGS plays a pivotal role in addressing the needs of Filipino women and men for quality care, responsive health services and accurate information on reproductive health issues. While it’s generally a conservative organization, the three member-doctors were persistent and determined enough to advocate for reproductive health from within. They felt the KAP survey was essential to help facilitate discussion and change approaches to reproductive health in the country.
The KAP survey validated what had been observed for many years - a majority of the Philippines’ primary women's health care providers have very little knowledge of, and very conservative views about, reproductive health. Results showed that the levels of reproductive health knowledge, attitudes and practices are low among OB/GYN practitioners, especially on topics related to psychosocial, ethical and legal concerns. Many respondents expressed conservative views due to their religious beliefs and were “repulsed” by the whole notion of reproductive health.
Based on the results of the survey, Dr. Awit made a presentation at the International Conference on Population and Development to urge that something be done to address the low level of reproductive health knowledge among POGS members. The speech made it clear that they were deeply alarmed by their findings and recognized that maintaining the existing standards would have profound implications on the quality of reproductive health care available in the Philippines. Fortuitously, the UNFPA Philippines Country Representative was in attendance and pledged full support for efforts to address these shortfalls in knowledge, attitudes and practices on reproductive health.
Heartened by the promise of additional support, the three Leadership Fellows collaborated with supportive POGS colleagues to brainstorm ways to transform a critical mass of OB/GYN clinicians into reproductive health advocates. With a great deal of support from key advocates, the three Leadership Fellows pushed for the insertion of the reproductive health component in the POGS’s vision statement and the creation of the Reproductive Health and Women's Advocacy Committee as one of the standing or permanent committees. When their advocacy efforts succeeded, Dr. de los Reyes spearheaded this new Committee as Chair.
With the additional support of the UNFPA Country Programme, the Leadership Fellows were able to implement a three-year project aimed at mainstreaming reproductive health advocacy among OB/GYN practitioners. It was the fist time that POGS had partnered with an international organization to implement a long-term project.
The project involved conducting a series of workshops on reproductive health issues. It targeted the POGS Board of Trustees, past presidents, chairpersons, and training officers of selected POGS accredited hospitals nationwide. The team conducted consultative workshops to create six (6) sourcebooks to enhance and transform reproductive health practices. These Sourcebooks were then integrated into the OB/GYN four-year residency training program.
Six sourcebooks to enhance and transform reproductive health practices:
- Violence Against Women
- Prevention and Management of Abortion Complications
- Male Involvement
- Adolescent Reproductive Health
- Gender and Sexuality
The Leadership Fellows also pushed for the inclusion of reproductive health topics in the POGS mid-year and annual conventions striving to maximize on every organizational gathering to increase awareness and improve the members' knowledge on reproductive health.
While much still needs to be done to transform reproductive health knowledge, attitude and practices in the Philippines, this collaborative effort provided the basis for instigating change and discussion within a generally conservative organization. Remaining challenges include how to engage traditional partners like large pharmaceutical companies that currently refrain from sponsoring any activity on reproductive health. But these three doctors, along with their fellow advocates and allies, are persistent and determined. They make themselves available to talk about reproductive health in various forums, involving other allied medical organizations where fellow POGS members are active and they believe that members will eventually find some common ground.
Among POGS members, even the smallest degree of openness to promoting reproductive health awareness and healthy choices can have a far-reaching impact and these Leadership Fellows are committed to continuing their efforts to facilitate change.