Posted on behalf of Priya Shetty.
Family planning should be catapulted to the top of global health priorities, said scientists and policymakers at a conference on population dynamics in London this week.
The planet’s expanding population means that the fight for resources such as food, water, and energy will become fiercer, and the overall increased consumption could greatly exacerbate global warming. With the world’s population set to hit 7 billion this year, and, potentially, a whopping 10 billion by the end of the century according to the United Nations, there’s little time to lose.
Although countries pledged in the 1994 Cairo declaration on population and development to make women’s reproductive rights the bedrock of population control, these issues received virtually no funding from either developing countries or international aid donors. What funding there has been for contraception in poor countries has largely been for condoms to stem the HIV epidemic.
The countries that will see the biggest population rises are in Asia and Africa, which have the world’s highest fertility rates, Ndola Prata, population health expert at the University of California at Berkeley told the conference. A lack of family planning in these regions doesn’t just swell the population, it also carries serious health risks. Women who have pregnancies that are too close together are unable to properly care for their children, affecting child nutrition. Childbirth alone is massively risky for women in developing countries, but aborting the child is little better for maternal health as millions of women die each year from unsafe abortions.
Now, countries like Uganda and Nigeria are rolling out family planning programmes, which includes for the first time investments from their own governments in addition to donor money.
There are good reasons to believe that this renewed commitment to family planning is more than political rhetoric. It comes at a time when women’s health is higher than it has ever been on the global health agenda. The UN has just created an accountability commission to help measure how progress on maternal and child health, which outlined its recommendations at this month’s World Health Assembly in Geneva. This February also saw the launch a new agency called UN Women to champion the rights of women.
The Ugandan minister for planning, Ephraim Kamuntu, told delegates that African countries are now realising that their theory that larger populations make for a stronger workforce and, therefore, a stronger economy is flawed if the resources to support those people aren’t there. If the developing world wants to improve the living condition of its people, it seems, it will first need to make sure that there are fewer of them.