Support for Family Planning Just as Important as HIV/AIDS Assistance


The world recently gathered for the International AIDS Conference in Mexico. But I found myself agreeing with environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, who argues that family planning in the world’s poorest countries should
be dealt with as a higher priority than tackling HIV and AIDS.

That may sound absurd coming
from someone who lives in a country, Kenya, whose prevalence rate has risen by 3%. But
I have my reasons for supporting Porritt’s point of view.

Porritt, the founder-director of Forum for the Future, told a science festival
recently that failure to prioritize family planning programs will
have a more damaging impact than HIV and AIDS.

In the controversial presentation,
Porritt compared current levels of international aid available for
family planning and for addressing HIV and AIDS. Funding for family planning
has significantly reduced over the years, Mr Porritt said, while funding
for HIV and AIDS has grown from USD 300,000 in 1996 to USD 8.3 billion
in 2005.

The United Nations is now calling
for funding to be increased to around USD 22 billion per annum.
While acknowledging the crucial importance of continuing to address
a disease which kills around three million people a year, Porritt
argued that the world "would simply not be able to sustain a population of
nine billion by 2050” and family planning could be a solution.

A combination of accelerating
climate change, severe water shortages, increased hunger and collapsing
eco-systems, all worsened by high levels of average fertility in some
of the worst-affected countries, represents more of a threat than HIV
and AIDS on the world’s population, he argued.

At the Town Hall in Cheltenham,
his home town, Porritt said, "It’s not that funding for HIV/Aids
programmes should be reduced – though many are now approaching the effectiveness
of that level of spending, particularly through US-funded programs."

On July 10 and 11, several
media outlets reported on World Population Day and its focus on gender
equality and family planning. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund,
predicted that without proper family planning programs, world population
will double to 12 billion by 2050. Family planning could also save the
lives of a third of the 536,000 women who die every year from pregnancy-related
complications, 99 percent of them in developing countries.

A country like Niger has a
total fertility rate of 7.5, according to the last DHS report of 2005
if the trend continues, and with the current population of 14 million, the
country will hit the 82 million mark in 2050 but if fertility is reduced to
3.5 the population will be at be 50 million that year.

While this is happening the
world is yet to pay serious attention to family planning. Apart from
rooting for someone who supports international family planning to win the US presidential elections, on behalf
of my African sisters, I pray that family planning gets as much as funding as HIV/AIDS or more. I don’t want to forget the role that traditional and religious
have to play in helping the population understand the importance of
using contraceptives.

In a message
observing World Population Day, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director
of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, said that family planning
"is essential to women’s empowerment and gender equality. When a
woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life."

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