Prioritising sustainable population growth: A top priority to achieve health, education & economic goals

Zubair Qureshi

The government is committed to taking all stakeholders on board including religious leaders, media and the young people to achieve sustainable population growth.”

This was stated by Senator Dr. Zarqa Suhrawardi Taimur, Member Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services Regulations and Coordination at meeting organized by the Population Council to mark World Population Day with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The meeting was also attended by Senator Walid Iqbal, civil society representatives, reproductive health experts, members from the academia and the media.

Every year, July 11 marks the commemoration of World Population Day . This year’s theme of World Population Day is “Rights and choices are the answer: Whether baby boom or bust, the solution to shifting fertility rates lies in prioritising the reproductive health and rights of all people.”

Speaking at the occasion, Senator Walid Iqbal said that the population issue is now being given due consideration and there was a cross party consensus on dealing with it.

“Seven million married couples in Pakistan want to space their families but are unable to do so due to lack of access to family planning services. Right to family planning is an essential part of the right to human dignity.”

He reiterated the government’s sustained efforts to raise awareness and reduce rapid population growth rate in the country to sustainable levels so that the well-being of all its citizens as guaranteed in the constitution can be ensured. He said that reproductive health rights are inextricably linked with human rights.

Dr. Ali Mir, Senior Director Programmes, Population Council highlighted the importance of prioritizing reproductive health and rights of people in Pakistan.

“Provision of reproductive health and family planning services is essential especially during pandemics.

Disruptions in supply of contraceptives in combination with lockdowns during the pandemic are predicted to result in a sharp rise in unplanned pregnancies, especially for the most vulnerable people in Pakistan.

Safeguarding reproductive health rights and respective care in the times of crisis should be at the center of the policy to manage the impact of the pandemic,” he said.

He stressed on the government’s role in prioritizing the population agenda to lower fertility rates and focus on provision of rights-based, voluntary family planning information, choices and services to maintain a balance between population size and resources to achieve the targets set by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) commitments.

Presenting Pakistan’s context, Samia Ali Shah, Project Director, Population Council cited recent fertility trends in Pakistan.

She informed that frequent childbirths and unplanned pregnancies result in untimely maternal deaths.

If contraceptive use increases from the current 34% to 55%, 4300 mothers can be saved from dying each year in Pakistan due to pregnancy-related issues.

More concerted efforts are required to invest more in reproductive health to provide quality family planning services and information to avoid repeated pregnancies and prevent maternal deaths, she added.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Bakhtior Kadirov, Acting Country Representative, UNFPA reiterated UNFPA’s support to the government of Pakistan in meeting its commitments to sustainable population growth. Dr. Kadirov stressed on the need for enhancing the fiscal space for population planning, use the mass media to propagate the national narrative and partner with the private sectors, amongst others, to meet the CCI commitments.