Friday April 29 2016

Uganda should get family planning messages right

By Moses Ariong

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) released the findings of the census held in November 2014 after the last one in 2002. A 10.4 million increase in population was recorded between 2002 to 2014, most of whom (75 per cent) dwell in the rural areas of Uganda and predominantly practicing subsistence farming.

The significant rise in population is attributed to the increase in the life span of Ugandans from 50.4 years to 63.3 years within a period of 12 years. This, however, is disputed by some analysts who argue that far better economies in Africa have not achieved this feet.

The bigger economies of Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa, where social service delivery is better than that of Uganda, still have lower life-spans of 61.1 years, 60.8 years, 52.11 years and 56.1 years respectively. The most plausible reason for Ugandans population growth could be the high fertility rates in this country, previously at 7.1 in 1991 and currently standing at 5.8 as per the 2014 census report. This rate is way above the African average of 4.7 and dwarfs the global average of 2.5 children per woman.

Mr Hussein Otala, a father of 21 in Amuria District, is a testament to this. Otala married in his early 20s to a woman within his age bracket and the two had all these children without any family planning practice. In fact, family planning use across Uganda is one of the lowest across the continent with the unmet need for contraception standing at 62 per cent among most married women.

Otala’s life tells a story of worry and despair from the struggles of providing basic needs for his family. He is among the 69 per cent of Ugandans who do not have a sustainable income source to meet their responsibilities as household heads and are wallowing in poverty. His family often goes to bed hungry just like 4 million other Ugandans that cannot afford two meals a day due to poor agricultural outputs attributed to numerous factors ranging from climate change effects to poor seed and production technologies.

Ugandan leaders, however, do not seem to realise the frustration that Otala and others are going through to fend for their families. A focus on reducing the unmet need for family planning, facilitating increase in agriculture productivity among small-holder farmers, ensuring that children obtain quality education and healthcare, among other interventions, is important.

These proposals are being addressed by several partners across the country. For example, The Aids Support Organisation provides free family planning services to their clients. NGOs such as ChildFund Uganda, World Vision Uganda alongside passionate health and social justice advocates like the Global Health Corps fellows are working hard to reverse the trend.

Start-ups like One Acre Fund have believed in the potential of Ugandan farmers to produce adequate food for their families and for income generation through improving access to quality seed and fertilisers. However, the local leaders seem to abuse this gesture by sending out contradictory messages to the communities, especially in regards to family planning, undermining the logic that an increasing population in a country grappling with 83 per cent unemployment rate among the youth and struggling to provide education and minimum healthcare packages to its citizens, will eventually yield negative results.

While launching the 2014 census report, President Museveni was chest-thumping that the population had grown thanks to the good services delivered by his government in the last 30 years. He continued to urge locals to produce more children because a big population would be a ‘strategic contribution to the East Africa regional market’, although he warned that there is need to educate the population to obtain “quality, not human beings without value addition”. Many government personalities have carried forward the message to the rural masses and, along with conservative religious groups that are against family planning, have fuelled resistance to messages passed out by the civil society.

This seems to be the challenge in the fight against poverty in Africa. With Africa expected to contribute 54 per cent of the population increase by 2050 and 82 per cent of the total growth by 2100, there is cause to worry, thanks to the “Africa rising” narrative that only exists in conferences with little effect to the lives of the ordinary African people. It is, therefore, prudent that Uganda gets its messages right on family planning to avoid waste of donor resources, reduce maternal deaths associated with child bearing and increase family incomes.

Mr Ariong is a Global Health Corps Fellow.
@ariongm

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