Each year on July 11, the World Population Day is observed. The United Nations noted that this was the second time that this occasion took place during a health pandemic and this posed a lot of challenges when it comes to fertility, birth control, and reproduction rights. All these have their own issues to raise and the impact of COVID-19 only aggravated the situation of the vulnerable members of our society.

This was noted by the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)-Philippines in their joint statement. Both agencies recognized a study stating that millions of women continue to experience restrictions in accessing family planning services due to the imposition of local community lockdowns. The impending ECQ, for example in NCR and other virus hotspots, will not only have economic consequences but will also affect the dynamics inside a household, especially those from the marginalized sector.

POPCOM added that reproductive health and family planning services were feared to be severely impaired in certain urban areas, which raised the red flag on their accompanying consequences. These include the possible rise in the incidences of unplanned pregnancies particularly among adolescents, increasing maternal mortalities, and gender-based violence.

Despite these challenges, however, the agency is noticing that more Pinoy couples are now using family planning. This was disclosed by Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan Antonio A. Perez III, MD, MPH, who said that “8,085,000 women and men were able to obtain modern family planning services in 2020: an increase of almost four percent in family planning users in the country.”

POPCOM interpreted this data to mean that despite the drawbacks caused by the pandemic, Filipino women, both young and old, are now exercising their rights and choices in their sexual and reproductive health by prioritizing their access to essential information and services.

Thus, the July 11 occasion served as an opportune time for the POPCOM, together with like-minded organizations, to call for action and support from the government to protect the most vulnerable and advocate for uninterrupted services for family planning despite the community quarantines.

The pandemic has truly compromised healthcare systems not only in our own country but even those of industrialized nations. But government must not use the pandemic as an excuse to set aside issues particularly in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

To reiterate the recommendation of the UNFPA, instead of reactionary policy responses, the government must be able to emphasize that women must be “empowered educationally, economically, and politically to exercise choice over their bodies and fertility.” This is the only way to “build” a strong foundation as an empowered nation starts with a fully informed family unit.