Most of the South Asian countries, including Nepal, have seen a drastic change in their patterns of population growth in the last decade. However, eight South Asian countries, which have over 20 percent of the world’s population, are sure to face many challenges in the coming days.Studies have shown that most of the world population will grow in the less developed region and countries in the coming decades and they will have to face many burdens and difficulties in development and environment.
“What are the ... billion million populations ... for us?” They affect us and our livelihood. Thus, it matters to us. The trend indicates that the overall investment in family planning and reproductive health sector is still inadequate,” said Dr. Saramma Thomas Mathai, regional team coordinator and Maternal Health Advisor (UNFPA –APRO). “When a woman in South Asia becomes pregnant, her survival cannot be assured. Countries of South Asian region have a long way to go in meeting MDG targets. National figures mask intra-country differences, with maternal mortality and morbidity clustered around poor and rural populations. “Maternal mortality is an indicator of the poor functioning of the health systems, including poor infrastructure, lack of equipment and supplies, and shortage of skilled human resources. Inequalities in access are clear by the huge differentials in utilization of skilled birth attendants and life saving caesarean sections in case of complication.”
At a time when there is a big need of investment in the family health and reproductive health sectors, it is difficult to make progress in the population management. Although Nepal too has invested a lot of resources in the areas of rural health infrastructure to provide facilities in family planning and reproductive health, they are still inadequate and insufficient.
The situation is similar to all the countries in the region. “Despite improvement in the maternal mortality, the life of pregnant woman is still unsafe in the Maldives,” said Uz Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, SAARCsecretary general. “In terms of infrastructure, we have built a lot in rural parts of Nepal, but it is difficult to claim that they provide quality services as well as offer reproductive health services to all needy people,” said Dr. Inu Aryal, head of family division at the Ministry of Population and Health. “There is still a long gap in supply side.” At a program organized by the International Council on Management of Population Program (ICOMP) in collaboration with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Population Association of Nepal, with support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, government representatives, parliamentarians, program managers and technical experts from SAARC countries raised various issue related to family planning and reproductive health.
“We need to focus on addressing the needs of men and women from South Asian Region, so that concerted efforts and interventions can be implemented towards achieving the ICPD and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),”said Dr.Wasim Zaman, executive director, ICOMP, Malaysia. “The aim of the two day program is to enhance the engagement of the parliamentarians and policy makers of South Asia along with the government representatives of policy makers, program managers and technical experts from the countries of SAARC region.”
Issues at stake are fertility trends, age at marriage, sexual and reproductive health behavior of adolescents and young people, contraceptive prevalence rates, reproductive health and family planning needs of poor segments of population, policy changes and its implications. Reproductive health is also regarded as the right of a woman. “The government must protect the reproductive rights of women by providing basic health services and family planning methods,” said Sapana Malla Pradhan, member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly. The existing huge number of young and adolescent and youth population and growing numbers of aging population are two major challenges that need to be addressed. There is the need of investment. Despite increase in the use of contraceptives and distribution centers, there is a huge gap in the supply side. As public bodies are responsible for the free supply of contraceptives, there has been mismanagement all the time.
Although even the private sector is involved in supplying contraceptives, the unmet need in Nepal is still over 40 percent. In South Asia, the percentage remains more or less the same. Here is the need for intervention. “We are still unable to meet the family planning needs of young and adolescent people whose role is important in population growth,” said Dr. K.G. Santhya of the Population Council of India. “If we are unable to meet the family planning needs of adolescents, the current population trend may go in a negative way.”
Experts argue that failure to meet unmet demands of family planning and contraceptives will bring unprecedented demographic upheaval. At the program inaugurated by Chairman of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly Subash Chandra Nembang, experts and parliamentarians shared their experiences in Regional Consultation with South Asian Parliamentarians and policy makers on Family Planning and Reproductive Health.
Parliamentarians and delegates from SAARC countries attending the South Asian regional consultation on family planning and reproductive health underlined the importance of population management to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“At a time when the countries of the region have been facing many challenges to manage the population, these kinds of consultations will provide a common platform to share the knowledge and experiences,”said chairman Nembang. “This is very timely and highly significant.”
One of the aims of the regional consultation was to increase commitments and adequate funding for addressing the unmet needs of the deprived and marginalized groups of population, including adolescents and youths in South Asia.