Aggressive efforts are needed to arrest rapid population growth

Kenya's total population shown during the release of the 2009 census report at KICC, Nairobi in 2010. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Population has a huge bearing on many government decisions and policies on social, economic and political facets.

  • Inadequate funds is another reason for lack of or little implementation of family planning programmes.

  • Budgetary allocation to health is still below the recommended 15 per cent, hence the over-reliance on donor funds.

There is every need for a concerted effort by national and county governments to aggressively raise awareness about population control through deliberate effective family planning, even as a national population census is planned for August next year.

The economic survey report of 2018 puts Kenya’s population at 46.6 million and expected to grow by almost a million next year, going by the annual average growth rate of 1.2 million over the past five years.

Population has a huge bearing on many government decisions and policies on social, economic and political facets.

For instance, the success or failure of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four’ agenda — affordable housing, universal health coverage (UHC), food security and revamped manufacturing — depends largely on the size of the country’s population.

RAPID POPULATION GROWTH

Whereas family planning has taken root in urban settings, specifically among the elites, the services have, disappointingly, remained unavailable to most other Kenyans.

That has contributed immensely to rapid population growth at a rate that has been constant since 2013.

The trajectory appears to maintain the same momentum, meaning it could be 59 million by 2030!

Since the introduction of family planning services, certain challenges have persistently hampered the government’s efforts to achieve the target of a 58 per cent uptake by 2020.

It was recently observed that Kenya is one of the most highly populated countries in Africa and that its population growth is much faster than that of the economy.

That threatens the health gains made and poses a big obstacle in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Vision 2030.

DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES

There are, therefore, fears that development initiatives such as UHC could remain a pipe dream despite efforts such as hiring Cuban doctors to offer specialist medical services in the country.

The doctor-to-patient ratio recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) of 1:1,000 might not be achieved.

This is because the number of medics qualifying every year may not match the population growth rate and, more importantly, access to healthcare will remain elusive to Kenyans owing to few facilities far away from home.

WILD GOOSE CHASE

Besides, UHC is much more than access to healthcare facilities and an adequate number of health providers.

According to the WHO, it means that citizens should access promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services of sufficient quality without undergoing financial hardship. It is thus easy to see why, without stringent population control, UHC will be a wild goose chase.

The housing agenda might not fare any better. While the government intends to construct adequate affordable housing for citizens, the rate of population grows does not seem to be in tandem with the plans.

Besides, the President has set a four-year ultimatum to achieve this momentous task. However, the runaway population growth rate does not, in any way, mean the government is not addressing it.

POPULATION POLICIES

Kenya is among African countries that have adopted and developed a number of population policies and strategies to address challenges to population management.

It has assented to both global and regional agreements, such as International Conference on Population Development, as well as the Maputo, Abuja and Family Planning 2020 protocols. The biggest challenge is implementation.

A 2014 study by Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW) on the unmet needs for family planning in Kenya, particularly in Kilifi and West Pokot counties, found that poor access to family planning commodities, over-reliance on donor funding, inadequate service provision and low male involvement in family planning as the reasons for them.

INADEQUATE FUNDS

Inadequate funds is another reason for lack of or little implementation of family planning programmes. Budgetary allocation to health is still below the recommended 15 per cent, hence the over-reliance on donor funds.

The government must, therefore, sufficiently fund the implementation of family planning services.

The involvement of men can be boosted through persistent sustainable public education as that will greatly address religious and cultural resistance.

Achievement of the MDGs, Big Four and Vision 2030 will depend on a leaner population.

Dr Lokeno is a practising pharmacist in Nairobi. [email protected]

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