Prioritizing sustainable population growth must be top priority say legislators

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By Rafiullah Mandokhail

 

QUETTA: Member Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services Regulations and Coordination Senator Dr. Zarqa Suhrawardi Taimur has said that the government was committed to take all stakeholders on board including religious leaders, media and the young people to achieve sustainable population growth.

She was speaking at a 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 prioritizing the reproductive health and rights of all people.”

Speaking on 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 essential part of right to human dignity.” He reiterated 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, Ms. 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.

The meeting also featured an expert talk on Status of Reproductive Health Rights of Men and Women in Pakistan. Advocate Sara Malkani, Reproductive Health Rights Legal Advisor highlighted Pakistan’s national and international commitments to safeguarding reproductive health and rights. She emphasized the need to empowering couples and individuals, especially women to enable them to exercise their reproductive rights so that they can make responsible decisions about the size and health of their families.

In the plenary discussion that followed, representatives from the civil society discussed how greater investment in population welfare is important for Pakistan’s social and economic prosperity. They also stressed on investment in girls’ education and employment as important pillars of attaining sustainable population growth in the country. Media’s role was highlighted to promote the new population narrative on Tawazun/Balance and educate people on striking a balance between their family size and resources. Participants stressed on working collectively to prioritize Pakistan’s population as a critical issue amongst policy makers, government and the general populace.

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.