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Pak population may touch 292m mark by 2050: seminar told

13 February, 2013

KARACHI: When it comes to success in family planning, population constraint and maternal and child morbidity Pakistan is still significantly lagging behind some of its neighbours, especially Bangladesh.

However, it would be unfair to say there haven't been any improvements. Despite family planning being almost always been viewed with scepticism in Pakistan, the total fertility rate, meaning the number of children per woman on average, has declined to float around 3.6, down from almost six.

Experts expressed these views while highlighting the topic the Department of Community Health Sciences at Aga Khan University (AKU) organised a two-day seminar titled 'Advocacy seminar on family planning and reproductive health,' commenced on Tuesday. The seminar allowed a diverse range of perceptions and policies to be highlighted and discussed as local and international experts from Indonesia, India, Nepal and Bangladesh spoke on the topic.

Speakers said that in Pakistan maternal and child morbidity have also declined but remain in the high range. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates in 2011, infant mortality was 65.1 per 1,000 live births compared to 90 per 1,000 in 1999, whereas maternal mortality ratio stands at 276 per 100,000 in 2011 from 450 in 1999.

The major chunk of the improvement, experts say, began once policymakers pegged family planning to healthy mothers producing healthy babies. For decades Pakistan's policy makers pitched the 'Bachay do hi achay' campaign without success. "That campaign proved counterproductive," says Country Director for Pakistan Population Council Dr Zeba Sathar. "However, there has been no opposition since family planning has been linked to maternal and child morbidity," she added.

Chair for the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at AKU Dr Anita Zaidi says, "Some mothers in Pakistan are so malnourished that they do not have the reserves to nourish their child." Zaidi urges that family planning was not just about population control it was also about wanting healthy mothers and healthy children.

Associate professor and Head Population and Reproductive Health Programme at AKU Dr Sarah Saleem said, "By 2050 Pakistan's population is expected to exceed 292 million and be in fifth place, after India, China, United States and Indonesia." Experts warn that decisive action must be taken before the country's robust population becomes a huge economic and social burden. Even then according to Population Council's Dr Sathar it will take another 10 to 15 years before Pakistan can stabilise its population.

Speaking at the seminar, Chair of the Department of Public Health and the Centre for Reproductive Health, Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Prof. Siswanto Agus Wilopo spoke on the 'role of family planning as not about limiting children but rather about improving their health'. Comparing the religious aspect of family planning Prof. Wilopo says, "family planning is consistent with the teaching of Islam and the Quran."

Quoting an excerpt from the Holy Book he adds, "The Quran says women should breastfeed their children for at least two years." Medically if a woman is breastfeeding for two years it will biologically impact her ability to conceive. Experts also recommend two years as the period for 'child spacing'.


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