By Alfred Wandera
A new national advocacy strategy on population calls for smaller families to address the population growth that is running out of hand if Uganda is to attain economic development.
The report notes that 78% of Uganda’s population is aged 30 years and below, majority of which are unemployed, hence posing a danger of civil disobedience and political instability.
“Uganda needs to urgently accelerate the shift from high to low fertility and mortality rates which will enable it to reap a demographic dividend. At the same time, the country needs to accelerate efforts to improve the quality of its population,” the new national advocacy strategy by the Population Secretariat says.
A demographic dividend refers to the economic benefit accruing from a significant increase in the ratio of working age adults relative to young dependants.
“Consequently, it is important to appropriately address the population issues in Uganda so that appropriate resources, planning, policies and development programmes are put in place to enable the country realize its National Development Plan and Vision 2040,” the report further notes.
The report says for Uganda to set herself on the path of sustainable progress, there needs to be a match between the pace of growth in population and that of development.
“Getting that balance right is both complex and delicate. If left unmanaged, high population growth can frustrate development efforts. Currently population growth in Uganda is outstripping the growth in vital services including housing, employment, education and health care. A country’s burgeoning population of young people with no clear employment opportunities can increase the country’s vulnerability to civil unrest,” the report warns.
According to the 2014 National Census, Uganda’s population is 34.9 million people, growing at 3.2% per annum, which is one of the highest in the world and this rate is projected to rise to 54 million in 2025 and expected to reach 130 million in 2050.
“The factors fuelling this high growth rate are many and complex, but the major ones include: persistent high fertility coupled with the high unmet need for family planning services and the high proportion of young people who will most likely lead even higher population growth when they start having children of their own,” says the report.
The released statistics show that Uganda has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy at 24% and unsafe abortions were estimated at 362, 000 in 2009. In addition, adolescent girls, especially from poor communities, face numerous obstacles during pregnancy and delivery as well as child bearing.
“The high unmet family planning need of 34% in 2011 and low contraceptive prevalence rate of 30% contributes to Uganda’s high fertility rate of 6.2 children. Furthermore, about 43% of the births in the country are unplanned for while 125 of the births are unwanted,” adds the report.
The report says although President Yoweri Museveni pledged to invest more in family planning during the July 2012 Family Planning Summit in London, the biggest percentage of reproductive health care funding comes from donors with the Government covering only 14% in 2010 of the national contraceptive need.
“In fact, much less of that figure was actually eventually realized as funds are sometimes not disbursed or are diverted to other priority areas,” says the report.
The report recommends urgent need for resources to create demand for reproductive health commodities in communities because there are significant knowledge gaps and misconceptions among users, their spouses and even health workers.
“Thus, behavior change communication interventions targeting both women and men especially in rural areas are urgently needed in order to increase demand for reproductive health services and commodities,” adds the report.
Dr. Kisamba Mugerwa, the National Planning Authority (NPA) chairman who was the chief guest, said development of a quality population is a cross-cutting issue that needs everybody and sector in order to tap into the emerging opportunities.
“When Uganda had political turmoil, the population was growing but facilities to address health, education, access to water and other needs didn’t match this pressure. We need to apply family planning, space our children to achieve Vision 2040,” said Mugerwa.
Uganda’s Vision 2040 aims at, among other things, to transform Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 30 years.
Prof. Pius Okong, the chairperson of Health Service Commission (HSC), said the report’s strategy of having smaller families may only remain a pipeline dream on paper since it does not offer practical measures to attain its recommendations.
“Just saying there is need for smaller and quality population in itself remains a mere Government policy. Addressing population growth should begin with advocacy targeting parents to talk to their children on the need of having few children and its benefits,” said Okong.
Allen Nankunda, the Executive Director of Communication Development Foundation (CDF) said the advocacy strategy is targeting leaders who will in turn target their respective communities.
“Better communication is needed at the grassroots especially to reach the men who occupy most leadership positions so that we can increase demand for reproductive health commodities and services. Some areas have the services and commodities but they are not utilized,” said Nankunda.
United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) country assistant representative, Dr. Edison Muhwezi, said the Government should ensure implementation of the strategy so that it serves the population, adding that UNFPA is committed to support the process.