TV review: BBC strays way off target in World's Busiest Maternity Ward


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The Independent Culture

There is a maternity hospital in Manila where women in labour routinely sit four to a bed, where an experienced midwife might deliver upwards of 200,000 babies in her career. It's known as "the world's busiest maternity ward" and there's none of your "birthing plan" nonsense here.

Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital sounds like it would make a great subject for a documentary, doesn't it? Sadly, the makers of the This World series on population thought they had a better idea.

In the waiting room, presenter Anita Rani got talking to Rosalyn, soon to give birth to her seventh child, who will live, along with the rest of the family, in a single room in the densely populated slum area of Tondo. Junalyn also lives in the slums, but she was putting off pregnancy in hope of securing a life-changing job at an international banking firm.

It wasn't long before Rani ascended the social ladder to mingle with Manila's more elevated elements, including middle-class mother-of-one Rose, who will give birth to her second, and probably last, child at a hospital with state-of-the-art facilities, where a private room sets you back £2,000, and Vicki Belo, a TV presenter and beauty specialist, who had made a fortune selling armpit-bleaching treatments (don't ask) to young Filipinos.

The programme's title, World's Busiest Maternity Ward, led us to expect a turbo-charged version of Channel 4's long-running maternity ward series, One Born Every Minute, and that would have been better. Instead, This World was so keen to link the programme's case studies to a bigger picture of global population growth that it strayed way off topic into a celebration of the Philippines' expanding economy.

Rani had several interviews with esteemed economists, yet there was no discussion of the macroeconomic context of poverty, and only a passing mention of the role that access to contraception might have in a Catholic country. Ironically, if this documentary had restricted itself to the maternity ward, it might have involved more insights into the real causes of population growth and fewer thinly veiled pitches for international investment.