Indications have emerged that Nigeria faces imminent population explosion if the country fails to address the current prevailing growth rate. Currently ranked seventh on the list of countries (and dependencies) by population,the total fertility rate (TFR) according to World Population Prospect stands at 5.67 per cent with an estimated population of 199 million, equivalent to 2.6% of the world.
Paucity of imperative policies and commensurate amenities to sustain this increase over the years has made it a challenge rather than an opportunity. The overbearing challenges of unconstrained urban sprawl, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure, housing shortages, rising unemployment, inadequate funding of urban development, acute crime and physical insecurity, poor crisis management and endemic corruption are the consequences of decades of indecision.
While we are obsessed with just the number of our population and ignorantly breeding and accelerating poverty, many nations are making strategic stride to stem the tide of their evaporating population. Incessant desperation of Nigerians to depart their motherland even in the most inhumane condition is the implication of this. Presently according to the World Poverty Clock, virtually half of the country’s population is in penury as the number of extremely poor citizens has risen from 87 million to 91.6 million in just over six months, while six Nigerians drop into the poverty net every minute.
Regardless of government’s position on this sinister report, the reality is that this present mindless trajectory of population growth is destructive, a situation that might derail civil propriety and enthrone abnormality in the society. Acknowledging this gaucherie at the 5thNational Family Planning Conference in Abuja few months ago, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo observed that the absence of basic social safety nets and pro-poor policymaking over the years has left tens of millions of citizens stranded as they only observe the statistics of economic growth from a distance, completely untouched by it.
Experts have, however, pointed out that for any country to unlock and reap the gains of demographic dividend of health, education, political stability and economy, the age of the young population and the older population must stand between 26 and 41 years while countries with very youthful populations almost never attain high thresholds. Nigeria fertility rate has remained high for so long, achieving the desired level of development across these multiple sectors is obscure as its present youthful age structure is about 65 per cent under 35 years with a median age of 17.9.
Today, as countries are significantly raising the level of their development, they are simultaneously intervening policy-wise to curtail their population growth. Nonetheless, the conviction of the need to manage the geometric rise in world population gave birth to the concept of family planning. And being one of the greatest public health achievements in the 20th century, the plan has evolved so much that many families have adopted it as the entry point into the health care system and consider it as their usual source of care.
The scheme which was incipiently developed to allow individuals to achieve desired birth spacing and family size has been broadened to accommodate reproductive health services thereby contributing to improved health outcomes for infants, children, women and families. Supplementary services like contraceptive and infertility audit, breast and cervical cancer screening, pregnancy testing and counselling, preconception health services, STDs and HIV prevention education, testing and referral are also integral component of the system.
Nigeria is yet to be identified with it as access to the service is still a mirage to majority of families. Over 10,000 women die annually from unsafe abortion. But rather than take active responsibility of the sector as the indicators of health and life continue to go from bad to worse yearly, government waits on foreign donors to finance its health projects.
Nigeria has a history of being impervious to progressive invention and this has reinforces the belief that its priority as a nation is often in discordant with its aspiration. Had government responsibly harmonise the initiative with the productive lifestyle of the citizens, it would have conveniently assuaged this growing apprehension, thereon; appreciable progress would have been recorded in the stability of the nation.
This reproductive planning system is inadvertently critical to unlocking and reaping the socio-economic potential of any society but lack of awareness, limited access to the service and insurance coverage remains the profound barrier in Nigeria. The intricacy in cultural and religious sentiment on fertility discipline has further depressed the purpose of family planning particularly among rural dwellers where poverty is more dominant.
Expanding access to publicly funded services is an expedient way to securing a stabilised populace because aside being an indispensable system of curtailing population explosion; it is a pillar to achieving true sustainable development. However, rather than acceding the responsibility of birth regulation to women, the society should encourage couples to have a conjugal assessment of their reproductive life and not be influenced by circumstance. Having fewer children is a potential to increase the rate of economic growth and a path out of poverty for many Nigerian families.
Similarly, in networking this therapy to the nooks and crannies of the country, a multi-dimension approach is a requisite. Through media outreach and improved collaboration among the government, health care providers and NGOs/CSOs, the probity of the plan is entrenched in every family. Such symbiotic desire must involve consistent community engagement to ensure a robustand participatory system.
Meanwhile, with the universal emerging complications in family planning, an element of preconception care must be integrated into every primary care visit for women of reproductive age. This intervention will help to identify and reduce risks to a woman’s health and improve pregnancy outcomes through prevention and management of health conditions, which significantly reduce birth defects and disorders caused by preterm birth. As part of comprehensive preconception care, families should be encouraged to develop a reproductive life plan, based on personal values and resources, and must be educated about how their reproductive life plan impacts the prosperity of the country.
––Kehinde Akinfenwa, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.