Africa needs family planning, education to address unsustainable population growth – Report

Contraceptives [photo: Medium]
Contraceptives [photo: Medium]

Booming population will become a problem for Africa by 2050 if the continent does not begin to seriously promote family planning, a report has warned.

This warning was contained in the Goalkeeper data report released by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation ahead of the Goalkeepers event in New York.

It showed that African population is beginning to overstretch the low infrastructural facilities in the continent, leading to mass migration to European countries.

The Goalkeepers report is released annually by the foundation to measure progress towards UN poverty reducing goals in 2030 based on assessment of 18 indicators.

According to the report, Africa’s population is projected to double by 2050. Nigeria is the most populous country in the continent and the seventh in the world, with an estimated population of over 198 million.

World Population Prospects recently projects Nigeria’s population will double by 2050, making it the third highest in the world.

To slow down population explosion and poverty rate in the continent, the report urged Africans to shift toward wanted births, or even reduce early births by improving women’s knowledge and access to contraceptives.

“In that case, the continent would have to quadruple its efforts just to maintain the current level of investment in health and education, which is too low already,” the report stated.

The report however says if the rate of population growth slows down; there will be more resources to invest in each African’s health, education, and opportunity—in other words, in a good life.

“To be very clear: The goal of family planning programs is not to hit population targets; on the contrary, it is to empower women so that they can exercise their fundamental right to choose the number of children they will have, when, and with whom.

“Fortunately, empowering couples to make decisions about their lives also improves Africa’s future by changing the population growth scenario across the continent,” it added.

Billionaire philanthropist and co-founder of the foundation, Bill Gates, said the world has done a great job on many of the issues they are working on.

Mr Gates said in the last 20 years, extreme poverty number came down by a billion, and looking at the world as a whole, the actual number of births in the world is quite flat.

He, however, said underneath that there has been a shift of the births from some of the richer countries into a lot of the more developing countries.

“If you just take Africa, even though it’s only 14 per cent of the population of the world, it’s 24 per cent of the births already. And over the century, it lights up and becomes half of the births. So, you actually have a lot of population growth in Africa, even though the globe as a whole, the growth isn’t that dramatic.”

Mr Gates said about family planning, the biggest thing is what is called the modern tools of contraception.

“There are the implants, there are the injections, there’s IUD. Obviously, if those things are available, then people are more in control of being able to space their children. Although it’s not a direct goal in our case, but it also does reduce the amount of abortion if you have great access to these family planning tools,” he said.

Mr Gates also explained that though there are talks against contraception issue by United States President, Donald Trump, they however will not relent in their effort to make the product available to as many women in Africa who might need them.

He said the United States is the only country where the contraception issues are such that sometimes the funding is more generous, and sometimes there are restrictions on it.

Mr Gates also added that though the overall funding on reproductive health from the U.S. has stayed high, being the biggest funder, other European donors are also involved.

He argued that there should be no cut in the reproductive health funds because there is no clear way that something would come in and substitute for it.

He added that some religious groups, including the Catholic Church, also have some issues with contraception.

“So those things are somewhat of a headwind as we’re going out and saying, ‘Hey, every woman who wants to have access should have access, and let’s improve these tools. Let’s make them cheaper,’ which we’ve made a lot of progress on that. Let’s make them easier to administer and the injection called Sayana Press was produced that a woman can provide to herself,” he said.

Also in the report, Alex Ezeh, visiting Fellow, Centre for Global Development, said Africa needs to bring back talks about population control because most women in sub-Saharan Africa have an average of 0.7 more children than they want.

He said if that number went down to zero over the next five years, the population in 2100 could change by 30 per cent.

Mr Ezeh also said improvement in education will help reduce population explosion as there is a link between empowerment and population growth.

He said educated girls tend to work more, earn more, expand their horizons, marry and start having children later, have fewer children, and invest more in each child.

“This will also help in the shift in the age at which women give birth to their first child. The average age at first birth for women in Africa is significantly lower than in any other region. Currently, it is 20 or younger in half of African countries.

“Their children, in turn, tend to follow similar patterns, so the effect of graduating one girl sustains itself for generations,” he said.

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