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July 12, 2019

World Population Day: Campaign in pipeline to promote small family norms, says Dr Zafar

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July 12, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Population stabilization will remain a mirage in the absence of efforts targeting universal access to family planning and reproductive health services. The government is building a national narrative for population control by launching a mass behaviour change movement aimed at promoting small family norms and increasing the demand for family planning services.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza made this announcement at a World Population Day event organised by the Ministry of National Health Services and UNFPA here on Thursday. Dr. Zafar said all public health facilities, general registered private sector practitioners, hospitals, NGOs and Civil Society Organisations will be involved in provision of family planning and reproductive health services. “For contraceptives commodity security, we will incentivize local production of contraceptives and strengthen the supply chain management system in coordination with the provincial governments,” he added.

Federal Secretary Health Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, UNFPA Country Representative Lina Mousa and DFID Deputy Head Kemi Williams also spoke on the occasion. The event also featured a panel discussion moderated by Javed Jabbar with panelists including former ministers Attiya Inayatullah, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, former Federal Secretary Muzaffar Mehmood Qureshi and Dr. Nizamuddin.

Dr. Zafar said there is highest level of political commitment to the cause with the Prime Minister heading the Federal Task Force on Population with all Provincial Chief Ministers as members. “The Council of Common Interests’ recommendations on alarming population growth must be implemented at the federal and provincial levels if we are to move forward,” he stressed.

Pakistan is one of the most populous countries in the world with a population of 207.8 million (intercensal growth rate of 2.4% per annum). At this rate, the country’s population will double in the next 30 years, compared with an average doubling time of 60 years for other South Asian countries. Dr. Zafar said, such a high level of population growth is unsustainable and has already eaten into the modest gains made in terms of socio-economic development. He said, one-fourth of the country’s population continues to live below the line of poverty, which is intricately linked to low literacy, high fertility, and high childhood and maternal mortality.

Secretary Health Dr. Allah Bakhsh said high maternal mortality and child mortality rates continue to pose challenges for the population and health sectors. He said the Ministry of National Health Services, in collaboration with its partners, has been playing an instrumental role in generating, analyzing and disseminating population data for making sound development policies.

UNFPA Country Representative Lina Mousa pointed out that Pakistan has a young population of about 37 percent under the age of 15. “The country has some of the greatest demographic opportunities for development as a growing youth population enters the workforce. To open the window of opportunity for the demographic dividend, Pakistan needs to reduce fertility and invest in the growing youth bulge entering the labour force. If births begin to decline each year, the young dependent population will also decline. This will help to free up resources to invest in the health, education and economic infrastructure of the country,” she advised.

Pakistan has a long way to go before it can claim to have fulfilled the national aspirations related to the ICPD Plan of Action. The country has one of the highest fertility rates in the region (3.6 children per woman); about 8% of women of 15-19 years of age are already mothers or pregnant with their first child. Recent evidence shows high prevalence of child marriage, with about 29% of women aged 25-49 years married before the age of 18. CPR for modern methods stagnated at 25%, which is one of the lowest in the world, resulting in high fertility. The unmet need for family planning is 17%. The speakers agreed that accelerating efforts to ensure balanced growth is critical to taking Pakistan forward and achieving the goals of development reflected in the vision of ‘Naya Pakistan.’

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