By Louise Jobe
West Coast Region joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Population Day on Tuesday 11th July 2017 at Sanyang Village in West Coast Region. The event started with a March pass from Sanyang Lower Basic School to Serekunda / Gunjur high way led by the Police Band.
The day is celebrated annually with the objective of focusing attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, particularly in the context of overall development. This year’s event was well attended by Senior Government officers, District Chiefs, Alkalos, Representative of GSM Companies, Youth Organisations, Women Representatives, Members of the National Assembly and the Governor of the Region.
Mr. Ngally Aboubacarr Sambou, the Regional Director of Health Services in his remarks said the day is commemorated to increase awareness on population matters and it’s linkage to development issues
The theme for this year’s celebration: “Family Planning; Empowering People, Developing Nations,” clearly indicates that family planning has the potential to enhance the health of women. Therefore, investment in family planning according to experts, can propel development and make the attainment of the new sustainable development goals much easier.
The Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, under the stewardship of Minister Saffie Lowe Ceesay, have the firm conviction that Government is committed to family planning as a means that can contribute immensely to positive maternal, neonatal and child health outcomes. Family planning is a national development strategy, and the health of women, young girls and children, is central to the development agenda of the new Gambia. A total family planning user for the year 2016 totaled 17, 813 which is low and more collaborative effort is needed in advocacy and improved access.
In The Gambia, like other countries, family planning has the power to improve the quality of life of whole communities such as improving the well-being of women, children, preventing illnesses such as HIV AIDS, fostering education opportunities for girls and women and increasing the female labour force participation, within the country.
Mr. Sambou held that with a national contraceptive prevalence rate of 9%, and a total fertility rate of 5.8%, this may mean that collaborative efforts need to be strengthened in a bid to reach comfortable levels for our beloved Gambia. ‘‘Family planning is a human right, and we are convinced that a person’s ability to plan the timing and size of his or her family, closely determines the realization of other rights,’’ he said.
Mr. Ebrima Mballow, the Governor of West Coast Region said the theme for this year’s celebration: “Family Planning; Empowering People, Developing Nations,” could not have come at a better time as challenges facing families and nations remain a hindrance towards the full attainment of the post ICPD 2015 development agenda and national development goals; that to access safe, voluntary family planning is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and is a key factor in reducing poverty and achieving accelerated economic growth.
Around the world, some 214 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods, for reasons ranging from lack of access to information or services, to lack of support from their partners or communities. Most of these women live in the poorest countries on earth. It is forecast that fulfilling the demand of these women would save lives by averting 67 million unintended pregnancies around the world and reducing maternal deaths by one third of the estimated 307,000 maternal deaths that will occur in 2017.
Studies have shown that an estimated 19 million unsafe abortions take place each year in developing countries and an estimated 68,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions and millions more suffer from it’s complications.
The Governor continued that reproductive health among teenagers is a major concern for government where many teenagers are sexually active at an early age. ‘‘Adolescent fertility has been a growing problem with far-reaching social and economic consequences. There has been an upsurge in teenage pregnancies, compounding the health risk and socio-economic situation of girls and young women,’’ the Governor said. Governor Mballow continued: ‘‘The 2013 DHS shows that child-bearing begins early in The Gambia. Thirty-one percent of women age 25-49 have given birth by age 18 and 49 percent by age 20. Almost one in five (18 percent) adolescent women age 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child. Furthermore, twice as many teenagers in rural areas as in urban areas, have begun childbearing (24 percent versus 12 percent). At the LGA level, the percentage of teenagers who have started childbearing is highest in Basse (33 percent) and lowest in Banjul (8 percent). In West Coast Region, about 14 percent of the teenagers have started childbearing. It is therefore worth noting that pregnancies at this stage in a woman’s life could have far-reaching consequences for her. Records have shown that the majority of maternal deaths in the Gambia are within the age cohort of 14 – 19 years.’’
‘‘It is a proven fact, that women who choose family planning are healthier and face lower risk of maternal death. Children born to women who space their pregnancies tend to be healthier and face reduced risk of death in their first five years. Women with choices and greater reproductive health are better empowered to seek and keep better jobs and contribute more to their families, nations and global prosperity. Their families are better-off financially and their children receive better education, triggering a cycle of prosperity that carries well into future generations. This produces demographic dividends and enhances global prosperity,’’ the governor continued.
In conclusion, the Governor commended UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and other development partners working in the area of population and development, for their perennial support in addressing population and development issues.
He also extended commendation to all the private GSM operators, for their invaluable support towards this successful celebration