11 days ago

Helping growth of a healthy next generation 

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Bangladesh has been a global model for family planning, as the use of family planning methods increased from around 8.0 per cent per eligible couple in 1975 to 64 per cent in 2022. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS)'s Bangladesh Sample Vital Statistics (BSVS) 2022 data, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) among women aged between 15 and 49 was 2.05 in 2021. The statistics point to the country's immense success in keeping the size of its population under control. However, going by the latest survey with its results published in June 2023, TFR in 2022 was found to have increased by 0.1 percentage point to 2.15 per cent. Clearly, the result goes against the government's avowed policy to the contrary.

In this context the news that upazila family planning offices are running out of contraceptive supply is disquieting. Birth-control products like Implanon or injections, prophylactics (condoms), oral contraceptive, emergency contraceptive pill and other such items have practically vanished from the upazila level family planning offices. The web portal of the family planning directorate, which keeps an updated record of contraceptives appears to have stopped working recently. According to government records, 37 per cent of the reproductive age couples used to receive government-supplied contraceptives, while NGOs provided three per cent and the rest 60 per cent came from the private sector. Obviously, the private sector caters to the well-off section of society.

To all appearances, the practice (of supplying free contraceptives) from the government's side has stopped apparently due to procurement crunch since December last year, according to official sources. Small wonder that the use of contraceptives saw a gradual decline over the past years, particularly since 2021. The BSVS further notes that the use of contraceptives in the country fell to 62.1 per cent in 2023 from 65.6 per cent 2021. Undoubtedly, this marks a significant fall in contraceptive use and the rise in TFR over the same period of time. It provides reasons for serious thinking over the issue.

Of late, as opposed to the earlier pessimistic notion of Malthusian origin that population growth was a curse, nowadays the belief has been gaining currency that population growth is a blessing seeing that it supplies working age population in an aging society. But for turning a population into an asset, the pre-condition is that the basic needs of the new members added to particularly the poor households be duly met. That involves providing them with quality food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare. Now the low-income population being thus denied free contraceptives may contribute, though not willingly, to the population growth. In that case, how are those additional mouths going to get quality food, healthcare, education, etc., for growing as a healthy workforce from whom society at large might reap the desired 'demographic dividend' in time? After all, children who are unhealthy, diseased and with stunted growth may prove rather a burden and not an asset to families and society. The government surely would continue with its existing family planning programmes and, at the same time, extend enhanced support services for the babies born today so that they might grow into a productive workforce in the future. 

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