LAHORE: There is a need to take immediate steps to overcome alarming challenges related to reproductive health and population control, said Population Council Project Director Samia Ali Shah.
She was talking in connection with the World Population Day being marked on July 11 (today) across the world. The day marks an important crisis in the country, where the government’s negligence towards reproductive, maternal and infant health has led to Pakistan being included in the top five countries of the world where the percentage of maternal death is among the highest. Apart from this, the effects of frequent pregnancies on maternal and infant health are also among the highest in the world.
This year’s World Population Day calls for global attention to unfinished objectives of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Twenty-five years have passed since the landmark conference, where 179 governments recognised that reproductive health and gender equality are essential for achieving sustainable development.
Shah said, “There are multiple health issues related to mother and child but at the moment, maternal and infant deaths are the most alarming problem. There is a dire need to address this problem.”
She added that awareness regarding family planning and birth control methods should be a top priority as an increasing birth rate as well as a high maternal and infant death rate is creating serious consequences for our society. “The lack of interest in family planning must be countered by a commitment to reproductive health.”
According to the 2017 Housing and Population Census, Pakistan’s population has reached 208 million at a growth rate of 2.4% since the last census in 1998.
Globally, family planning is recognised as a necessary tool for faster fertility decline leading to accelerated socio-economic development. Expanding access to and use of voluntary family planning has a positive impact on the nutritional status of both mothers and young children, as well as the overall food security of communities and countries.
Dr Salman Kazmi, who works at Mayo Hospital Lahore says, “Poverty and a lack of family planning are why our population and maternal and infant death rate is increasing.”
A lady health supervisor named Asima Shahzadi said that the role of health workers is important to address the issue of overpopulation especially to convince couples regarding family planning.
“Frequent pregnancies are the leading cause of maternal death in Punjab.”
Sustainable population growth is crucial for Pakistan’s progress and can have cross-sectorial impact on all aspects of our national development including health, education, nutrition and the climate crisis. Although the latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS 2017-18) indicates some improvement in the status of child and neonatal health, 62 infants out of every 1000 live births in Pakistan continue to die before reaching the age of one whereas 38% of children under the age of five are malnourished in the country.
Well-spaced births allow female bodies to recuperate and replenish essential nutrients and lead to breastfeeding and better nutritional outcomes, such as healthy birth weight for their infants.
Dr Abdul Haseeb Ahmed of Gujranwala Tehsil Headquarter Hospital said that although frequent pregnancies are the primary cause of death in women, it is important to note that most maternal deaths occur in quack-run clinics located in villages. “There is lack of awareness in villages where pregnant women go to quack clinics or rely on the local midwife instead of a professional gynecologist.”
He added that there is need for a government crackdown against quack-run clinics so that we can secure maternal health in the country.
Medical experts believe that the benefits of optimal birth spacing also have far-reaching effects into childhood, reducing the prevalence malnutrition and stunted growth among children less than five years of age.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2019.