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Datu Piang, Maguindanao, The Philippines -- At the age of 24, Raisa Masukat, still projects a shy and childlike demeanor. “I married young,” she shares with a soft voice. Raisa is a full-time housekeeper, and her husband is a farmer.

“This is my third child. I am eight months pregnant,” Raisa reveals. 

A mother’s fear

“I delivered my first two children at home,” Raisa says. “Before, I could not go to a health facility because it’s just too far and we had to spend on transportation. I thought there is nothing wrong with it because everyone in our town gives birth at home anyway,” she adds. 

“Still, I would often hear our town’s stories on birth complications and difficult deliveries at home. Fortunately, my kids have been healthy, ” Raisa reflects.

In the Philippines, about 2,600 women die every year due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. These complications often happen at home, where there are no adequate supplies and equipment to respond to the difficulties.  In addition, with the lockdowns and disrupted services brought about by the pandemic, the maternal mortality cases in 2020 could increase by 26 percent (UNFPA, UPPI 2020)

Cash for heath: promoting maternal health

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines, through the support of the Government of Japan, implements the Cash for Health Project in Maguindanao. The program incentivizes the health-seeking behavior of pregnant women and those who recently have given birth. Through Cash for Health, UNFPA provides pregnant women with financial assistance for four antenatal care visits, facility-based deliveries, and postpartum visits. The incentives can cover pregnancy and childbirth-related expenses like medicines and transportation and other household expenses, all while mothers access life-saving maternal health services.

Raisa keenly listens to the health advice of the health worker at the rural health unit.
Raisa keenly listens to the health advice of the health worker at the rural health unit.  | (c) UNFPA Philippines

Besides maternal health care, beneficiaries like Raisa have received critical health information, including the need for regular prenatal and postnatal care. “Prenatal check-up is important for all expectant mothers. I realized it would be safer to have trained personnel who will perform birth deliveries. It is also better to deliver at the barangay’s birthing center,” Raisa adds.

“Now, there is support. I feel safer now and happy for my baby,” she exclaims. 

Just the beginning

Raisa shares, “I will use the money for my delivery and the needs of my children.”

When asked how many children she would like to have, Raisa shares, “This would depend on my husband, but if I will have my way, three children would just be enough.”

When pregnant women visit health centers, they also receive postpartum family planning counseling including  birth spacing and  suitable and available family planning methods. UNFPA promotes essential information on sexual and reproductive health and rights including family planning through radio programs across the Maguindanao province.

“I am very thankful. The financial assistance is helpful,” she pauses. “ But I would like to learn more. I pray that I can attend activities that will enlighten me more about health and women’s concerns. Other women in the community may also feel the same way as I do,” she shares, changing to a more confident tone. This time, Raisa sounds self-assured, as a mother and an individual.