Australia and UNFPA provide women in remote areas access to reproductive health services during medical emergencies
In December 2021, Super Typhoon Rai (Odette) struck the Philippines which left many provinces deprived of basic services. One of the affected areas is the Province of Dinagat Islands which suffered significant infrastructure damage that included the sole sea ambulance of the province. As a result, transportation from Dinagat Islands to the mainland of Surigao del Norte – where most life-saving health services are located – became increasingly difficult during medical emergencies especially for mothers with complicated pregnancies.
To help address the needs of women and girls in the province, the Australian Government in partnership with UNFPA Philippines conducted reproductive health medical missions, distributed maternity packs, and deployed a sea ambulance to provide access to critical sexual and reproductive health supplies and services, including sea transportation during medical emergencies. The project has also allowed women and girls to avail services that address gender-based violence, and mental health and psychosocial support needed to recover from the overwhelming situation.
Every Minute Counts
Barangay health worker volunteer Fantiarie learned she was pregnant with her fourth child a couple of weeks after Typhoon Odette hit Dinagat Islands. During the Reproductive Health Medical Mission conducted by the Australian Government and UNFPA, her ultrasound check-up revealed that the baby in her womb was in a breech position, which would make the delivery of her baby more challenging.
On the morning of 15 August 2022, Fantiarie was rushed to Dinagat District Hospital due to severe pain and bleeding. However, due to the limited medical facility and equipment for complicated pregnancies in Dinagat, the doctors referred her to Caraga Regional Hospital in Surigao City for an emergency caesarean procedure. The doctors told Fantiarie that the chances of survival were slim for her baby since she already lost a lot of blood.
Patients in Dinagat Islands needing emergency care would usually pay around PHP5,000 to PHP6,000 and travel for at least two hours by boat to reach Surigao City. With the sea ambulance provided by the Australian Government, Fantiarie was able to reach Caraga Regional Hospital in 30 minutes — with fuel cost subsidised by the provincial government of Dinagat Islands. Her baby was born safely on the same day via caesarean section.
“If the sea ambulance was not here, it would’ve been very difficult to find transportation to Surigao City. I wouldn’t have made it to the hospital,” Fantiarie said.
“Every minute counts during emergencies. I am beyond grateful that a two-hour boat ride was cut down to 30 minutes and I didn’t have to worry about the costs. The sea ambulance from the Australian Government saved my baby’s life and my own.” Fantiarie added.
The sea ambulance named as ‘Women’s Health on Water’ was formally handed over to the Province of Dinagat Islands in August 2022. It is part of UNFPA’s integrated sexual reproductive health and gender-based violence response supported by the Australian Government. Through this project, survivors of gender-based violence may also seek care at high-level facilities using the sea ambulance to enable them to seek the services of women and children protection units in Surigao del Norte. To date, the project facilitated referrals of 53 cases with five high-risk pregnant women from geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.