By Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
“We are seven children. When we buy a loaf of bread once a year on Christmas day, we eat it at one sitting. We don’t have enough food to eat because of our number and yet our mother is pregnant again,” Kate, a 12-year-old girl of Kidongo village in Mbarara, Uganda laments.
This sad discourse illustrates what is happening in our families and nations because of huge population sizes.
Uganda’s population now stands at a staggering 34 million, and on October 31 last year the world’s population crossed the seven billion mark. To some communities in Uganda, and many others in similarly developing countries, everything will never be enough if we don’t put a halt to the rising population.
Family and nation
If we look at the family and nation, we shall find that Dr.Ward Cates and the researchers at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) are right in their view that continued, rapid population growth poses a bigger threat to poverty reduction in most African countries than HIV.
This ever-growing population, coupled with a lack of family planning, creates conditions that stop women entering the labour force. This continues to create gender inequality that exacerbates the suffering of women.
What’s more, every family that has not planned for itself and is large as a result will have less disposable income, which means it cannot afford to bring enough food to the table leading to much hunger.
Higher population growth increases the costs of social services as more women die in childbirth and demand grows for water, food, education, healthcare, housing, transportation and jobs. It also contributes to the failure to achieve all eight of the millennium development goals.
Population growth means there are less government resources per head for family planning services, which in turn means people are not in control of how many children they produce.
In developing nations like Uganda and many others in Africa, girls often have to dropout of school due to unintended pregnancy or to help care for their younger siblings. In the whole of Africa, fewer than half of girls complete primary education. Lack of family planning worsens the situation. Because in a large African family it will be the boys who are given priority and sent to school.
In Uganda 45,000 children die every year in their first month of birth, and 135 out of every 1000 labours ends with the death of the child. A total of 76 children out of every 1000 will die before their fifth birthday. About 1.2 million infant deaths are averted globally each year by preventing unintended pregnancies. According to UNFP, if we could therefore meet all our demands for contraception, another 640,000 newborn deaths would be prevented. But increased population will make it impossible to meet all our demand for contraception, which will continue to diminish chances of child survival.
The issue of every woman achieving universal access to reproductive health including family planning is the millennium development goal 5 (b). If a woman seeks to terminate an unintended pregnancy, because this is illegal in many African countries, she will seriously risk her health. The risks associated with unsafe abortion are among the main causes of maternal death, especially among young women.
If a woman wishes to continue the pregnancy, in low resource settings without safe delivery services the risks of maternal mortality are also high, as are other devastating health impacts that are sometimes of a permanent nature.
In Uganda, the maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates are still at unacceptable levels, with official figures from the 2006 Demographic Health Survey indicating that 435 women die per 100,000 live births. (The reality may be even higher. Statistics from UNICEF and the World Health Organization, as referenced in September by Reproductive Health Rights in a letter to parliament, found the maternal death rate to now stand at 505 per 100,000 live births).
However, with increased population, fewer women will be practicing family planning and the chances of safe delivery will continue to dwindle.
Contraception is the best kept secret in HIV prevention. Women who are living with HIV run the risk of transmitting the virus to their children, which is greatly reduced if they are given antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. But when these pregnancies are unintended the situation is even more complicated. But preventing unwanted pregnancies among HIV-positive women greatly reduces the number of HIV-positive births. The fight against HIV will be prolonged because of increased population as this means means more women with HIV are going to have many unintended pregnancies and therefore transmit the virus to their children. This translates into many more children being born with HIV.
Environmental protection and sustainability
UNFP says that about half of the earth’s biological capacity has already been diverted to human use and that the world population is rising by 78 million people every year and is expected to grow from 6.7 billion people to 9.2 billion people by 2050. However, it adds that, if current birth rates remain unchanged, the world population will be 11.9 billion by 2050.
Remember that, as this is going on, many women want fewer children. UNPFA estimate that 200 million have unmet needs for contraception. But the situation is going to be aggravated by the fact that increased population means a family has many more children who need more food, land and water, which puts much more pressure on a country’s forests and arable land. Moreover, lack of family planning is five times more expensive than conventional green technologies for reducing the atmospheric carbon dioxide that leads to climate change.
In order to put a halt to the above problems, let us all do our part in as far as population control is concerned. Let the government, the civil society organizations, the media, the health workers and whoever cares encourage our communities to practice family planning in order to control this monster called population pressure.
Let us together fight to solve the unmet need for family planning as population control will reap huge benefits for our families, our nations and the entire world.