What is your story of being one of the founding members of the Philippine Society of Sexual and Reproductive Health Nurses Inc.? How did this organization get started?
I started as an RH advocate during the height of the clamor for the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill in the Congress and Senate. Through series of dialogues, meetings, and consultations, I was further enlightened about the importance of this bill. I believe that this bill would help the Filipinos attain and enjoy their sexual and reproductive health needs and rights.
During this time, a number of nurse advocates working on various fields of nursing practice decided to formalize a nursing specialty organization dedicated to advancing not only the practice of SRHR nursing in the Philippines but more so ensure that there would be professional nurses “caring for Filipinos’ sexual and reproductive health’.
However, starting the Society and its eventual legalization was not without bumps and challenges. The founding members had to secure approval and endorsement of the Professional Regulatory Board of Nursing twice, after it has been rejected on its first try in 2013. The founding members, young and enthusiastic as they are, were made to answer condescending inquiries and face critics among our older colleagues in the field of maternal and child health nursing.
Albeit all these, the Philippine Society of SRH Nurses Inc. was subsequently incorporated in February 2017.
How many founding members do you have? What does each member contribute to the group?
The Society has 11 founding members, 7 of whom eventually became the Society’s incorporators. The founding members either work in the government or in various civil society organizations pushing for and providing sexual and reproductive health services. There are also founding members in the academe, advocacy institutions, and other policy-making bodies.
Each founding member specializes in the twelve (12) elements of reproductive health as stipulated in Republic Act 10354 or the Philippine Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Act of 2012.
These 12 elements of reproductive health enshrined in the law are as follows:
- Family planning information and services which shall include as a first priority making women of reproductive age fully aware of their respective cycles to make them aware of when fertilization is highly probable, as well as highly improbable;
- Maternal, infant and child health and nutrition, including breastfeeding;
- Prescription of abortion and management of abortion complications;
- Adolescent and youth reproductive health guidance and counseling;
- Prevention, treatment and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmittable infections (STIs);
- Elimination of violence against women and children and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence;
- Education and counseling on sexuality and reproductive health;
- Treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions and disorders;
- Male responsibility and involvement and men’s reproductive health;
- Prevention, treatment and management of infertility and sexual dysfunction;
- Reproductive health education for the adolescents; and
- Mental health aspect of reproductive health care.
What are some of the biggest challenges that nurses face in providing sexual and reproductive health care in the Philippines?
Reproductive Health has been a continuous struggle for Filipinos, even among the nursing profession. The Philippine Nurses Association (accredited professional organization for nurses) had never got to a common understanding on what is the Filipino nurses’ stand on RH, even during the long battle for the RH Law to be passed.
Further, nurses as health professionals are expected to be service-oriented. However, the RH Law in the country is very clear about conscientious objectors. A service provider may opt not to provide RH services like distribution of FP commodities, providing RH/FP education, or performing/assisting in permanent FP procedures, but is required to endorse another service provider or refer to other providers. This implies that nurses may choose not to promote RH education if it is against their religious conviction as the law respects individuals and their religious beliefs.
On a micro-perspective, there is a huge gap when it comes to nurses being able to provide SRHR services. This is due to the fact that reproductive health in the nursing curriculum is only in the maternal and child care context. There are limited number of nurses providing actual SRHR care services.
How does your company/organization work to solve these problems for nurses in the Philippines? What is your vision for the future in sexual and reproductive health in the Philippines?
The Society is a convergence of RH nurses, RH nurse educators, and RH nurse advocates. The organization may start a small light for other nurses to join the SRH advocacy and get others’ support. The Society believes that “in number there is strength”.
The Society is looking forward that SRH becomes not only an area of interest but more so a specialization of the nursing profession – among nurse practitioners, researchers, educators, and nurses in the development sector. The Society shall serve as an advocacy team to mainstream SRH as an area of expertise in the nursing profession, to support SRH policy within and among the nursing ranks and national government, and to create a training academy for nurses who wishes to focus on SRH.