The ongoing focus at the national level on family planning and population control in Nigeria could not have come at a more audacious time. In one or two decades from now, Nigeria will become the third most populous country, coming after China and India. And already, there is a big strain on the family regarding living condition, state of health, educational placements, job opportunities, child mortality and related issues. Population can be an asset, if it is in harmony with developmental goals; just as it can be a liability if it is not reconciled with resources and work opportunities. The population projection is scary, particularly because having geometric population explosion without a visible corresponding socio-economic growth is a liability that could only spell doom for the country at no distant future. The necessity to put in place control measures to keep the country’s population growth in check and manage population growth for the benefit of all cannot be overemphasized.
One way of managing population is the adoption of family planning (FP), which also prevents maternal and child mortality. Family planning refers to a woman’s ability to choose if and when she becomes pregnant and continues that pregnancy to term. It helps ensure that pregnancies occur at the healthiest time of a woman’s life, and these pregnancies are wanted and planned. In addition, when pregnancies occur at the healthiest times, women and their newborns are more likely to survive.
Family planning has the ability to prevent up to a third of maternal deaths and the survival of newborns. Hence, ensuring access to FP is not only a matter of human rights, but can also play a key role in protecting the lives of mothers and children; not discounting the management of population explosion to prevent demographic disaster.
Therefore, FP is critical in the calculus of population management, because Nigeria’s exploding population without a corresponding expansion of health, education and job opportunities, is headed towards demographic disaster, which is already manifesting in sectors such as securing admission in schools, hospitals, getting a job and pervasive criminality, etc; in addition to the issue of maternal and child mortality.
Furthermore, uncontrolled population without commensurate infrastructure is again evident in the overcrowding, depletion of natural resources and environmental deterioration in the land. All said, it is plausible that condition of living in the country today would be much higher were the population to be much lower than what it is presently. Lamentably, Nigeria has failed to achieve the FP target of enabling more women and girls of reproductive age to have access to contraceptives by the year 2020.
So, it is heartwarming that during the recent global gathering to mark the launch of the new decade of the Family Planning (FP2030) partnership, a global partnership that supports the reproductive rights of women and girls, Osagie Ehanire, the Minister of health stated that the Nigerian government has made a commitment to allocate, at least, one per cent of the national and state health annual budgets to family planning, which is part of government efforts to ensure every woman and girl has access to life-saving family planning services.
This commitment should not be just for ‘political correctness’; rather it should be deployed to the implementation of the new Family Planning Blueprint (2020-2024), which is Nigeria’s roadmap for safe motherhood through the healthy timing offered by modern FP commodities. The House Committee on Health should through its oversight function ensure that the one per cent of the national and state health annual budgets to family planning is released timely and used judiciously.
Dr. Ehanire, while launching a book entitled “Family Planning for A More Productive Nigeria,’’ at the ongoing Nigeria Family Planning Conference 2020 in Abuja, says achieving the 27 per cent Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) by 2024 is possible. He recognised the need to collaborate with relevant partners and stakeholders in the procurement and distribution of family contraceptives, aimed at achieving the 27 per cent CPR.
He was right to describe as outrageous Nigeria’s 5.5 per cent total fertility rate in Sub-Sahara Africa, as recorded in the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS). Similarly, the Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, said adequate family planning has the capacity to reduce maternal deaths in the country by at least 30 per cent. Speaking at the media launch of the National Family Planning Campaign by the Rotary Action Group for Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health (RMCH), he noted that Nigeria is still leading in maternal deaths globally, as 512 women die for every 100,000 live births in the country, an unacceptable statistics.
Also speaking, the national coordinator, RMCH project, Emmanuel Lufadeju, said Nigeria’s population of 200 million would, by 2050, double. According to him, although over 90 per cent of women of child bearing age are aware of the use of contraceptives, only 15 per cent of them use it. It is true, as Lufadeju explained, that most poor countries in the world are the ones having high population.
In addition, it is important to deconstruct the social and gender norms hindering the agency, autonomy, and access to rights-based family planning of women and girls, as well as those impacting men, young people, and vulnerable populations. Also, there is a need for improved working relationship between the media and health sector as the media can help raise awareness and educate women and men on the importance of accessing FP. Educating men is critical because arguably, most men undermine the severity of maternal and child mortality, thus do not give the necessary support needed for the adoption of FP.
Similarly, civil society organisations should develop and execute culturally acceptable interventions to promote demand creation for FP services towards managing the nation’s population aimed at reducing the imbalance between socio-economic growth and population.