Adapted from: The Daily Nation
Kenya needs a Sh5.6 billion investment to meet the shortage of family planning services, partly blamed for the high population growth.
The high unmet need for family planning services both in rural areas and towns is being cited as the main reason fertility rates have remained high at 4.6 births per woman.
The unmet needs are also blamed for unwanted pregnancies that have increased to more than one million every year.
According to the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development (NCAPD), mathematical models show if funding was made available, for example this year, the investment would translate into savings amounting to Sh20.3 billion before 2014, as birth rates and unwanted pregnancies shall have declined significantly.
“As families have fewer children, the cost to meet the needs of the population and the Millennium Development Goals also go down,” says the NCAPD in a report entitled “Family Planning is the missing link to achieving Kenya’s development goals”.
Now, one out of every four married women (25 per cent) says she would like to space her next pregnancy by two years or more, or not have any more children, yet she is not using family planning due to scarcity of the service.
Of the Sh20.3 billion, the report says, Sh8.6 billion will be saved in education, Sh2.8 billion on immunisation of infants and children under five, Sh2.7 billion on water and sanitation, Sh5.6 billion on maternal health and Sh0.6 billion on malaria.
“The cost of savings in these five sectors outweighs the additional investment for family planning by a factor of 4 to 1,” says Ms Pamela Onduso, one of the experts who contributed in preparing the report.
Kenya’s weak economy has been unable to adequately meet the demands of the increasing population, leading to a decline in standards of living and increase in the number of people in poverty.
Though the proportion of families living in poverty reduced from 54 per cent in 1999 to 46 per cent in 2009, the total number living in poverty increased, because of the total population size, from 15.4 million in 1999 to 17.8 million last year.
To increase the use of contraceptives, United States Agency for International Development (USaid) and the government have launched a four-year multi-million shilling campaign to increase access.
The campaign, expected to end in 2014 will cost Sh56 million annually and will be split into two, with one programme targeting the youth and the other the married couples.
“We want to reach 60 per cent of the population especially those living in the rural areas where contraceptive use is low,” said USaid senior health manager, Dr Sheila Macharia.
A comparison of the population figures with that of Seychelles brings out a clear picture as to why such campaigns are needed.
The number of candidates who sat this year’s KCPE examination (741,507) for example, were more than the total population of the Seychelles, which currently stands at about 86,956.
In fact the moderate population growth in Seychelles is partly the reason the government has adequately provided essential services and created job opportunities, making it one of the top ranking countries in Africa in human development.
The NCAPD document, which was also presented at a recent National Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi, says Kenya needed to manage its population growth, to ease pressure on the economy.
“Family planning is the missing link to achieving development goals such as having a healthy workforce and educated workforce, creation of jobs and modern infrastructure,” Ms Onduso adds.
The government allocates about Sh530 million to the Division of Reproductive Health, to buy family planning devises. Donors also supplement the funding of the programmes.
However, according to the head of the Division Dr Shiphrah Kuria, the funding is not enough to meet the demands of the growing population.“The government needs to double the funding to make the programme sustainable. We should not rely so much on donor funding since it is for specific periods,” Dr Kuria says.
The money received from government and donors is used to buy family planning devises such as depo-provera, condoms, cycle beads and oral pills, among others.
The official said that a lot of money was spent in subsidising the services to make them accessible to the general public, but quickly added that more money is needed to increase access to family planning services.
According to NCAPD chief executive officer Bonface K’oyugi, the rate at which Kenya is growing is threatening the Vision 2030 target of transforming the country into a middle income country.
“The pace at which the population is growing requires that the provision of services be provided at the same pace, which is difficult for a poor country like Kenya,” Dr K’oyugi said.
According to the NCAPD boss though, arguments have been made about the benefits of large population, but one should be cautious when referring to poor nations in Africa.
“There is a difference between the size of the population and population growth and that should come out clearly when discussing the population,” Dr K’oyugi said.
Many have cited China and India when discussing benefits of population, but forget that the population growth of the two countries is below two per cent, enabling the two governments to effectively manage the increase.
“Large population is beneficial as it creates available market for goods and services, but when poverty rates are as high as in Kenya’s case, then the argument of large markets collapses. That is why family planning is important,” Dr K’oyugi said.
The consequences of unplanned pregnancies, he added, were unsafe abortions, high-risk births and high maternal deaths.
Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya, also contends that although population growth is beneficial, in Kenya’s situation it had become a constraint to development.
“We need to manage our population to ease pressure on government to provide social services and release more funding for investments that will make the economy grow and create jobs for our youth,” Mr Oparanya said.