Transforming the Birth Experience in the Philippines with Quality Maternity Care and Free Birth Centers

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Maternal and infant survival rates at Mercy in Action birth centers are four times higher than the national average.

Mercy in Action has been sponsoring free birth centers and facilitating the delivery of quality maternity care since 1991. With over 16,000 babies born in their facilities, the organization has profoundly impacted the lives of women and children across the Philippines.

A buntis, group of pregnant gather in the Philippines at Mercy in Action
A Buntis Congress, a group of pregnant women gather in the Philippines for services at Mercy in Action

Licensed Filipina midwives run the birth centers with the goal of providing free maternity care to underprivileged families. The centers focus on offering respectful and compassionate care while implementing evidence-based practices that encourage positive outcomes for mothers and babies. They provide high-quality, holistic maternity services that aim to eliminate typical obstacles to care while promoting shared decision-making, kindness, and safe birthing practices. 

Every day, eight hundred girls and women die in pregnancy and childbirth. We are here to change that.”

– Vicki Penwell, Founder, Mercy in Action

In the Philippines, neonatal and maternal mortality rates are alarmingly high. However, the situation is starkly different at Mercy in Action’s birth centers. Thanks to the devoted services of the organization’s midwives, in 2019, their centers reported a maternal mortality rate nearly 50% lower than the national average and neonatal mortality rates more than 75% lower.

Mercy in Action attributes these excellent maternity care outcomes to high-quality, comprehensive maternity care that strives to remove common barriers to care and promotes shared decision-making, kindness, and safe birth practices.

Several barriers to care include financial constraints, lack of transportation to healthcare facilities, and a shortage of professionally trained birth attendants in local communities. Mercy in Action is actively addressing each of these issues. They strategically place their clinics in economically disadvantaged areas to make transportation less of a hurdle. Their services are offered free of charge, alleviating financial stress, and, in some centers, they even offer feeding programs. And, in an effort to increase the number of trained birth attendants, they operate an accredited midwifery college.

12 Steps to Safe and Respectful Care: An International Model

All of Mercy in Action’s sponsored birth centers have undergone a comprehensive accreditation process to become approved clinical sites for the implementation of the International Childbirth Initiative (ICI): 12 Steps to Safe and Respectful Mother-Baby-Family Maternity Care. The initiative provides clear steps for the implementation of evidence-based maternity care worldwide. Representatives from Mercy in Action have been invited to educate various hospitals, professional associations, and clinical settings in the Philippines about this model, along with providing global instruction via webinars.

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Beberly embarked on her journey as a midwife in 2018 and has since attended more than 500 births. While initially interested in nursing, Beberly discovered her passion for midwifery after earning a scholarship. The most rewarding aspect of her job is when a mother thanks her while holding her healthy newborn baby.

“It’s amazing to deliver a baby, to help the mother give birth.”

-Beberly, a midwife at Mercy in Action


Midwives on a Mission

Just a few steps from the Pacific Ocean, Mercy in Action’s birth center provides free services to the local Filipino community in Tanauan, located on the island of Leyte. The center, under the leadership of the passionate midwife, Nerissa, underwent a massive rebuilding effort after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the area. 

Nerissa and her team of skilled and empathetic midwives are dedicated to supporting the entire pregnancy journey, from educating expectant women to standing by their sides during labor and beyond.

The team hosts regular “buntis” congresses. “Buntis” is a Filipino word meaning pregnant or pregnant woman. During these monthly gatherings, also referred to as “Congresses,” the Mercy in Action team shares information on family planning, safe pregnancies, and nutrition with expecting women. This initiative is an integral part of the Department of Health’s High Impact Breakthrough Strategies (Hi5), which are aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality rates.

When it comes time for delivery, the birth center considers every need. Accommodation is covered from when a woman arrives until after delivery, and free, nutritious meals are provided. During labor,  trained health workers focus on creating a safe and supportive environment and help to ensure that mothers are comfortable by offering various services such as massage and breathing exercises. Additionally, mothers may have a supportive companion, such as a spouse, sibling, or friend, in the room with them. This supportive environment improves birth outcomes and has gained popularity throughout the community.

Fishing boats along the coastline as the sun sets behind mountains in the central Philippines.
Fishing boats along the coastline as the sun sets behind mountains in the central Philippines.

Since our partnership with Mercy in Action began in 2014, together we have reached over 13,000 women with multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS). To connect even more women and children in the Philippines with proven nutrition solutions, Vitamin Angels partners with an additional 35 locally based organizations across the archipelago.