Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Family planning in Africa

By Clyde Ahmad Winters
Director Uthman dan Fodio Institute

The declining economic situation in most African non-oil producing states is forcing leaders in these nations to see family planning as a means of stopping unwanted population increases. Clyde Ahmad Winters, director of Uthman dan Fadio Institute, Chicago, analyses the problem against the backdrop of the recent U.N. sponsored International Conference on Population held in Mexico City.
In August the second United Nations sponsored International Conference on Population closed. At this Conference 3000 delegates from 150 nations met in Mexico City's Tlatetolco Centre to discuss family planning and international population. The delegates were attempting to find ways to curb population growth in the world which threatens to double according to The World Bank in 2050. Experts expect 95 per cent of this growth to occur in the Third World.

The Third World is aware of this. Already Third World nations spend $1.5bn a year to control its growth. The debt burden of many African nations is rising. In 1983 12 out of 16 nations requesting debt rescheduling were African. The foreign debt is estimated to total around $100bn annually in Africa. As a result many African nations are near to bankruptcy

The declining economic situation in most African non-oil producing states is forcing leaders in these nations to see family planning as a means of stopping unwanted population increases. The biggest fear in Africa, where the population is rising- at a conservatively estimated-rate of 2.7 to 2.9 percent annually is running out of food. The estimated annual growth for the rest of the world is 2.4 per cent.

Many African delegates were angered at this meeting by James L. Buckley, chief United States delegate to the conference, who made it clear that the U.S. will not support "coercive family planning" programmes, i.e. forced sterilisation; and that the U.S. fund would be cut off to United Nations organizations that perform or actively promote abortion. This new policy could affect U.N. population programmes and the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, which receives about $40m a year from the U.S. The 1.P.P.F. could lose about $13m in U.S. aid or fully 25 percent of its budget if this policy is enforced. The U.S. has already held up $19m in aid for U.N. population programmes which has to be released before the end of fiscal year Sept. 30, or the Reagan Administration will be charged with the impounding of money appropriated by Congress.

The U.S. is upset because the U.N. Fund for Population Activities is supposed to be supporting Chinese family planning programmes which are reported to include forced sterilizations and abortions. President Reagan wants to support this ban on aid, to pay back a major debt he owes anti-abortion groups in the U.S. for their support.

Mr Buckley, at the population con- ference, also advised the delegates to use free market policies to end over-population. He made it clear that government involvement in the economy is more of a problem than too many babies in relation to development. "Concentration of economic decision- making in the hands of planners and public officials," noted Mr Buckley, "tend to inhibit individual initiative and sometimes cripples the ability of men and women to work toward a better future." In an interview in the New York Times, Mr Buckley said that "you can't talk seriously about population problems and not talk about economics. The two are interlocked." Although he made it clear that the U.S. will support family planning programmes where the need is urgent, he was clear on the administration's view that economic growth is a "natural mechanism for slowing population growth." He cited the examples of South Korea and Hong Kong that have had rapid population increases accompanied by rapid economic growth due to its flourishing private sector.

The African nations are opposed to the U.S. desire to make the capitalist model a method for world-wide family planning programmes. Mwai Kihaki, vice-president of Kenya, told Time magazine that "Times are different, governments have to take a positive role in all kinds of programmes." He added "even if it were true," that rising standards of living reduces population, "the time schedule is 100 to 150 years. No one has the right to ask the developing countries to wait."

African women constitute the backbone of their economies. Family planning would ease their burden

Africa's population is rising rapidly. For example, Kenya's urban population doubled between 1969 and 1979. In Kenya the population of 19m will double in seventeen years, and in twenty-one years Nigeria's population of 88m will double to 176m.

Africa's population grew from 22m in 1950 to 470m in 1980. The sub- Saharan population has risen from 210m in 1960 to 393m.

Africa has the fastest growing population growth rate in the world At 2.9 to 3.2 percent annually. But the annual increase in food production is only 1 per cent.

Today Africa's population is 530m. Some experts believe that Africa's population may reach 900m by 2000. The FAO's Land Resource for Population of the Future Project, has sugges- ted that 30 to 50 African countries will be unable to feed themselves by the end of the century.

This rapid population growth led the OAU, at the second African Population Conference meeting in Arusha, Tanzania last January, to declare that women must have the right "to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and education to do so."

Many population experts see contraception and spacing as the most viable methods to slow down population growth in Africa. But contraceptives are expensive and among African and other Third World populations they have negative medical effects on the targeted populations. As a result there are an estimated 65m couples, according to A.W. Clausen, president of the Third World Bank, who want family planning services, but lack access to such services.

If the U.S. ban on aid is continued many African nations may lack the funds to effectively impact on popula- tion growth in their countries. Spacing and contraception may have to suffice as the most important means of family planning in Africa. In many parts of Muslim Africa contraception is already practiced.

Spacing births can also be an important form of birth control. The World Fertility Survey, found that chances of infants expiring in infancy or child- hood is higher for babies born within two years of a sibling. Spacing children could ensure healthier babies and most importantly limit births.

"To help accommodate birth spacing and contraception cheaply African mothers should be encouraged to breast-feed their babies rather than bottle feeding" - Dr R.V. Short of Monash University of Australia.

To help accommodate spacing and contraception, cheaply, African mothers should be encouraged to breast-feed their babies rather than bottle feeding. It is no secret that the decline in breast feeding in developing countries is the main cause behind what Dr R.V. Short has labelled "an excessive stimulation of maternal fertility and an enormous increase in infant mortality" in the world today.

Dr Short, of Monash University of Australia, in a recent article in Scientific American, pointed out breast feeding's contraceptive effect. Dr Short found that whereas the bottle feeding mothers began to menstruate an average of eight weeks after delivery and to ovulate after 11 weeks, the breast-feeding mothers began to menstruate an average of 33 weeks after delivery. He also found that no women in his study ovulated if she was breast feeding six or more times a day, and no women ovulated during unsupplemented breast feeding. Furthermore, Dr Short noted that only 5 per cent lactating women who resumed unprotected intercourse before menstruation are likely to become pregnant.

Breast feeding also has health benefits for the infant. No formula of milk has the immunological protection of breast milk. Studies indicate that if the mother is well-nourished her natural milk makes a healthier child. Chung H, Ahn and William C. Macleam of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, illustrated that infants exclusively breastfed grew perfectly normal for the first 9 to 10 months.

To maximize the contraceptive effects of breast-feeding the baby should be allowed to nurse at will during the day and night. It would appear that a trend away from powdered and condensed milk, back to breastfeeding could be in the national interest of many poor African countries.

At the close of the population conference the delegates "fine-tuned" 85 recommendations drafted before the conference by specialists. Some of the recommendations of the conference were: the improvement in the status of women and guaranteeing their role in limiting their families. It was also decided by the conference that family planning policies "should respect human rights, the religious beliefs, philosophical convictions, cultural values and fundamental rights of each individual and couple to determine the size of its own family.

An amendment proposed by the U.S. delegation calling for improving economies by "fostering the conditions where the human entrepreneurial and commercial spirit can flourish." was defeated by the conference majority. But it did recommend that governments "examine which economic approaches most effectively advance development."

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