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Medical groups back longer maternity leave

Various groups of doctors and medical health professionals on Monday expressed support to a pending legislation that seeks to expand maternity leave benefits for women.

“The push to increase the number of maternity leave days is rooted not only in social justice and equality, it has basis in good medical science,” said Dr. Edmyr Macabulos of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and of the Philippine College of Occupational Medicine (PCOM) in a press conference at Annabel's Restaurant in Quezon City.

Macabulos said this will provide more time for the recovery of women after giving birth, particularly new mothers.

Macabulos cited a 2011 study involving 141 countries with paid leave policies which concluded that a longer maternity leave can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10 percent.

"Another study published in the same year found that additional maternity leave days gave mothers the time to breastfeed their children. Breastfeeding, in turn, helps prevent stunting, and strengthens an infant’s immune system," he added.

Dr. Jody Dalmacion of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society said the Philippines is the only country in the ASEAN region which has a 60-day maternity leave policy, adding that such period is not enough.

"It says something about the way we think. It says something about our health priorities as a nation. When even countries like Vietnam and Malaysia have moved on while we haven’t is disheartening, because in our current working environment,” Dalmacion said.

Dr. Sheila Masangkay of the Philippine Pediatric Society and the Philippine Society of Newborn Medicine echoed Dalmacion's remarks, noting that the country's existing maternity leave period itself is a public health risk.

"Due to its inadequacy, it is a real public health risk. An expanded maternity policy addresses this,” said Masangkay.

Convention 183 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which the Philippines has committed to, prescribes a minimum of 98 days of paid maternity leave.

Last year, the Senate passed on third and final reading Senate Bill 1305 or the Expanded Maternity Leave Law.

The measure, authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to grant 120 days of paid maternity leave to all female workers.

Its counterpart in the House of Representatives is still awaiting approval. The groups called on the lower chamber to pass its own version of the bill.

Leilani Junio / PNA