Family planning programme losing importance?

Shishir Moral | Update:

Use of birth control methods have almost come to a standstill over the past five years, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). This is having a detrimental effect on the population of the country. It is estimated that by 2051, the population will stand at 21 crore 84 lakh (218.40 million).

Experts say that this burgeoning population will add pressure on employment, land, agriculture, housing, health and environment.

The government spends Tk 1700 crore (Tk 17 billion) annually on population control, yet the birth control programme limps feebly along.

Government officials claim that since Bangladesh’s independence, population control has progressed significantly. Reproduction rates have fallen and usage of birth control methods have increased. But it now is a difficult challenge to maintain that progress.

According to the BBS report, ‘Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics 2016’ published last week, on 1 July last year the population stood at 16 crore (160 million). By 1 January this year the number had increased to 16 crore 17 lakh (161.7 million). That means the population went up by 17 lakh (1.7 million in just six months). In other words, the population is increasing by 9,315 heads per day.

The Directorate of Family Planning records show that in 1975 eight per cent of eligible couples in the country used birth control methods. This increased every decade and in 2000 the number stood at 58 per cent usage. The 10 years following that saw a downslide is usage and in 2011 the rate was 61 per cent. The final records of 2016 show the rate to be 62.3 per cent.

The total fertility rate (TFR) is directly related to the use of birth control methods. In 1975, the TFR was 6.3, that is, on average a woman would give more than six births. The prevailing TFR is 2.1, that is, on average a woman gives birth to two children.

The present administration apparently does not see population as a big problem.  They prefer referring to the population as an asset rather than a burden.

Officials of the family planning directorate feel that such an attitude of the government will affect the population control programme.

Professor of Dhaka University’s Population Science Department AKM Nur-un-Nabi told Prothom Alo, strides have been made in the country’s education rates, economic status and women’s empowerment, but the family planning programme remains as it was. It has lost its edge and appeal.

According to the family planning directorate, there are 23.5 thousand posts for family welfare assistants in the country, but about 2500 of these remain vacant. And another 3000 or so posts remain empty in the positions of deputy assistant community medical officers, pharmacists, family planning inspectors and more.  No appointments have been made for long, hampering the programme. Despite demand, 12 per cent of the eligible couples are not being able to avail contraceptives as required.

Programme manager of the family planning directorate, Mahbub-ul-Alam, told Prothom Alo, “It will be difficult to increase the prevalence of birth control methods from the present rate. In fact, it is a challenge to maintain this rate. Inadequate number of workers on ground hampers service. A revamping of the programme is being considered.”

The population presently stands at 16 crore 17 lakh (161.7 million). That means there are 1100 persons per sq km. Bangladesh’s population density is four times that of India and eight times that of China.

One of the glaring fallouts of such a large population is unemployment. The latest manpower study (2015-16) shows that about 26 lakh (2.6 million) able persons of the country are unemployed. Population experts estimate this to be much higher.

Professor Nur-un-Nabi feels that this growing population will have an adverse impact on the economy. He said that unemployment is an acute problem. This could lead to social and political unrest.

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