Urgent action needed to curb runaway population growth in Pakistan

Health minister calls for working towards sustainable, balanced growth


​ Our Correspondent October 17, 2019
PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The last census showed that in 20 years, Pakistan’s population had grown by 57 per cent at a rate of 2.4 per cent per year. If the situation continues unabated, the country’s population may well double by 2050.

This was warned by Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza while addressing some 70 legislators from the upper and lower houses of parliament during a national dialogue on Pakistan’s population challenge. The dialogue had been co-hosted by the Population Council and the Health Ministry and was supported by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) in Islamabad on Wednesday.

“Pakistan’s population will double in next 30 years if we do not take urgent action to reduce the current growth rate of 2.4 per cent,” Dr Mirza said, as he called for working towards achieving a sustainable and balanced population growth.

The SAPM further stated that population is a national issue and should be dealt through a unified approach by all stakeholders. He reminded legislators about Pakistan’s commitment to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on providing universal access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for its people.

UNFPA Country Representative to Pakistan Lina Mousa commended the strategic vision of the government in taking bold steps to accelerate population family planning and reproductive health programmes.

“UNFPA stands committed to its contribution and support to the government on its commitment to expand family planning services, which is a vital step toward improving reproductive health, as well as its commitment to reducing fertility and reaching a balance between population growth and socio-economic development,” Mousa said.

Political will and leadership are fundamental to improving women's access to reproductive health and rights information, education, and services, Mousa concluded.

She noted that at the 25th anniversary of the ICPD this year in Nairobi, Pakistan is expected to present its 2019 ICPD25 statement wherein it will renew its commitment to providing universal access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare to its citizens.

Population Council Country Director Dr Zeba Sathar presented recommendations prepared by a task force constituted by the Supreme Court in 2018 to address rapid population growth in Pakistan.

These recommendations covered eight major sectors including ensuring universal access to family planning and reproductive health services, finances, legislation, advocacy and communication, curriculum and training, contraceptive commodity security and the role of the ulema.

Dr Sathar stressed on investing in women’s education and employment.

During a discussion on the role of parliamentarians in addressing population challenges, there emerged a multi-party consensus on dealing with the population issue to put Pakistan on the path of sustainable socio-economic development.

Legislators endorsed the need for new and stronger legislation for mandatory provision of family planning and mother and child health services through all public and private sector facilities.

Legislators were of the view that access to family planning services can be expanded through functional integration of provincial health and population welfare departments. They further discussed that accountability forums should be made more effective to monitor the working of these departments.

They called upon the government to play an effective role in providing education to citizens so that they can make well-informed decisions. Moreover, they impressed on the government to address myths and misperceptions amongst citizens which hinder the uptake of family health services through responsible mass media and effectively engaging religious scholars for promoting responsible parenthood in their sermons.

A panel discussion on renewing ICPD commitment on accelerating efforts for meeting Pakistan’s population challenges saw former federal minister for population Dr Attiya Inayatullah, and Member of Parliament Prof Dr Mohammad Nizamuddin, Population Association of Pakistan president and provincial ministers of Population Welfare and Health and youth delegates call for strong political commitment and adequate resources to achieve ICPD goals.

They stressed on making reproductive health and family planning services available to every household in the country and centring efforts to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

The panellists emphasised on public-private partnership and highlighted urgent and substantial policy reforms to help create a more conducive environment for girls’ education and socio-economic inclusion.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2019.

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