Today is World Population Day, a day set aside by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1989, to be observed by the international community. The theme for this year is “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations.”
The day is significant considering that no fewer than 214 million women in developing countries including Nigeria, who want to avoid pregnancy do not use safe and effective family planning methods, for reasons ranging from lack of access to information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities.
Population from time has grown and will continue to grow as long as humans exist and continue to procreate. However, population growth must be planned and controlled to ensure a good standard of living for the population. Statistics indicate that Nigeria’s estimated population, as at 2017, is 192 million with a growth rate of 3.2 per cent. This implies that if the population continues to grow at this rate, the country’s population will double in size in just over 20 years. Total fertility rate is estimated at 5.5 births per woman.
Despite the high fertility rate, which translates to high birth rate, contraceptive prevalence rate, both traditional and modern, is low in Nigeria compared to other countries such as Egypt, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia, with similar circumstances. The number of births per woman in those countries has declined between 1960 and 2016 while the opposite is the case in Nigeria. Family planning has since been proven to be an effective and efficient means of controlling rapid and unplanned population growth especially in resource constrained and developing countries like Nigeria. Proper population planning among others, prevents pregnancy-related health risks in women, reduces infant mortality, empowers people and enhances education, reduces adolescent pregnancies and risks of HIV/AIDS and ultimately slows population growth.
It is however worrisome that in spite of these and many other benefits, the priority given to provision of effective and efficient family planning services and programmes in the country has been poor and inadequate as evident in the poor resource allocation to family planning programmes and services, leaving a huge gap. Funding interventions by developing partners have proved inadequate in meeting the country’s family planning needs. A research by partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health (PACFaH), on funding for family planning in three states, Kaduna, Oyo and Nasarawa for instance, revealed a very complex public budgeting system that relies on little or no use of evidence to determine resource prioritisation and allocation. It also revealed low prioritisation of family planning programmes within the health sector as shown by the consistently low allocation of resources to the programme and persistent non-release of allocated funds.
This is in spite of marginal increase in budgetary allocation to the health sector between 2012 and 2014. In our view, beyond controlling population growth, investments in making family planning available also yields economic and other gains that can propel development. Current average population per doctor in Nigeria is estimated at 2,650 with 277,000 doctors to be trained between 2017 and 2050. Moderate population growth will also lead to less spending on food imports. 2017 statistics from Avenir Health show that with moderate population growth, there will be 23 million fewer primary school students to be educated in 2050, 19 million fewer new jobs required between now and 2050, N2.8 trillion less for rice imports between now and 2050 and 52,000 fewer doctors to be trained between now and 2050.
The health benefits of family planning are immediate. By increasing public sector investments in family planning, thereby enabling Nigeria to meet its Family Planning Blueprint goal of 36 per cent contraceptive prevalence rate by 2020, Nigeria could save the lives of an additional 22,000 mothers and save the lives of an additional 101,000 children, bearing in mind that when births are spaced, there is a lower incident of infant death. Since the London Summit of 2012 on family planning, there has been a significant improvement towards expanding access to voluntary family planning services. 300 million women and girls across 69 of the world’s poorest countries now use modern contraceptives for the first time in history as a result of which more than 82 million pregnancies, 25 million unsafe abortions and 125,000 maternal deaths are averted annually. This year, just past the halfway mark to 2020, presents an ideal opportunity to commit to more urgent and intensified action to accelerate progress to the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) goals and the shared vision of universal access to sexual and reproductive health, as laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
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