Opinion

We need not just high but healthy population

We need not just high but healthy population
  • Having the right population structure is key to Kenya’s development aspirations.

  • A population with more economically productive people than it has dependants is what we should aim for.

  • Family planning is key in helping Kenya to attain this desired population structure.

Budget-making for the 2021/2022 financial year is in high gear, with the National Treasury and county treasuries holding public participation meetings.

Once the process is complete, allocations will be made to counties from national revenue to run their operations and development projects. With allocation of resources, the debate about the role of population in sharing of resources is likely to be reignited.

When the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census results in November, proponents of the idea that a large population leads to increased resource allocation, hence development, went into  overdrive, encouraging people to abandon family planning and ‘multiply’.

Population is a double-edged sword. It is true that having a high population means a county could possibly receive slightly more funding from the national coffers. But it also means that the county may have to spend more on social services such as healthcare, sanitation and education.

Furthermore, in the Commission on Revenue Allocation’s revenue allocation formula, population accounts for 45 per cent of a county’s allocation. The remainder is determined by other factors: Poverty factor, equal share factor, land area factor, fiscal effort factor and development factor.

So, when proponents of the idea that a large population equals development encourage communities to reproduce to raise their numbers, they are simply being economical with the truth.

Having the right population structure is key to Kenya’s development aspirations. A population with more economically productive people than it has dependants is what we should aim for. Family planning is key in helping Kenya to attain this desired population structure.

The national government and the 47 counties have family planning programmes designed to encourage all Kenyans to plan their families. It is not a population control or population-limiting measure but a way of enabling individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births.

That means whether an individual or couple decides to have one or six children, for instance, they have access to the information and the services they need to support their quest for planning their child-bearing.

Planning families has many proven benefits to society. One of its most vital rewards is that child planning and spacing protects the health of women and children by reducing high-risk pregnancies and allowing ample time in between pregnancies. The World Health Organisation recommends a spacing of at least 24 months after a live birth to reduce the risk of adverse maternal, perinatal and infant outcomes.

Child planning and spacing also enables girls and women to achieve their ambitions. Whether they want to pursue education, work in formal or informal occupations, women of reproductive age who have the benefit of choosing when to have children, how many to have and how much time between each child are more likely to lead a better life than those who don’t.

Studies show that women who plan their children alongside their individual and family aspirations can go to school (and finish), make better and higher incomes and participate in shared activities in their communities. All these benefits not only accrue to the woman but also her partner, family and community.

Child planning and spacing also means better economic outcomes for counties and the nation.

According to studies, it leads to financial savings in the provision of healthcare services. When the National Council for Population and Development and the Health Policy Project applied the Impact Now policy model in 2015 for Kenya, every Sh85 spent on family planning was projected to accrue savings of Sh381 in direct healthcare costs by 2020.

Families are able to care for their children better: Feed, house, clothe and educate them better.

Politicians ought to be at the forefront of mobilising investments in health and well-being; education and skills training; employment creation and entrepreneurship. This is a more credible path to development that is likely to lead to a healthier, well-educated population that is socially and economically robust.

This will give the country a better shot at achieving Kenya Vision 2030 – the aspiration to become a newly industrialising, middle-income economy providing a high-quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030.

Ms Samba is the Kenya country director, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW).