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For family planning Mexico’s the one to watch

13 November 2008

Although the Philipines is better known as a former colonial possession of the United States, culturally the Filipinos and the Mexicans are closely connected.  From the time the Mexican sailor-monk Andres de Urdaneta found a route from Manila to the Mexican Pacific Coast in 1565 up to the time of Mexican independence, the Philippines were not so much “Spanish” as “Mexican”… the Viceroy in Mexico City oversaw (badly) Filipino administration and Franciscans from Cuernavaca spread the faith.  In western Mexico, Filipino ancestry is common, especially in older mercantile families.

While both nations share certain cultural assumptions, and to some extent religious beliefs, one radical difference has been in the official attitude towards birth control . Rina Jimenez-David, writing in the Philippine Daily Enquirer explains the envy Filipino reproductive Health care professions feel towards their Mexican counterparts:

A glaring difference is the status of our national family planning and reproductive health programs. In the Philippines, reproductive health has not only been neglected, the term itself is looked on with hostility by President Macapagal-Arroyo. The family planning program has been reduced to the promotion of a single, unreliable method–the so-called natural family planning–which so far, despite the millions spent on its promotion, is still largely rejected by couples and women. And in Congress, a reproductive health bill is facing stiff opposition from religious conservatives, although a growing number of legislators have been supportive.

* * *

IN CONTRAST, the family planning program of Mexico has been, said Dr. Marco Antonio Olaya Vargas, head of the program at the Ministry of Health, “one of the programs with the most experience” in the country, having been established in the 1970s.

Today, Mexico boasts of 70.9 percent contraceptive coverage for women of reproductive age (compared to about 45 percent in the Philippines). Twenty years ago, said Olaya Vargas, the average fertility rate in Mexico was seven children, and the population growth rate (PGR) was 3 to 4 percent. Today, the fertility rate has fallen to 2.1 per woman, and the PGR is down to 1.9 percent.

“Family planning is a national policy and therefore it is mandatory and must be enforced in all the states (Mexico follows the federal system),” replied Olaya Vargas when asked about the possibility of conservatives in state governments simply refusing to implement the program in their areas. In cases where a local leader imposes his own personal beliefs in the implementation of the program, “we will have to go to that state and investigate, ask them what the problems are and how we can work to solve these problems.” But so far, said Olaya Vargas, “no state has openly said no to family planning.”

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THE INFLUENCE of the Catholic Church, the health official said, “hasn’t been an obstacle.”…

One reason you read (or rather I read, but only because I have to) in anti-immigration and white supremacist propaganda about large Mexican immigrant families is that the immigrants tend to be the very poor who are inadequately served by the Mexican health care system… and, more importantly… because reproductive health care for the poor really sucks in the United States, if it exists at all. The Mexican birth rate has fallen below the replacement level and, even without emigration, the population will start to drop over the next century. Or.. it will have to take in immigrants, perhaps from the Philippines.

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