Dr Josephine Kibaru-Mbae
The World Population Day was celebrated on July 11, 1987 for the first time. Since then, this day is marked across the globe every year to keep track of the progress made by member countries of the United Nations on emerging population issues.
It is worth noting that since 1987, great progress has been made amidst challenges. In 1987, the world had an estimated population of 5 billion people. Today the world has an estimated population of 7.3 billion people.
In the same year, Kenya had a population of about 21 million people; today the country has a population of about 52 million people.These figures have doubled over time because of a number of reasons.
First, there is improved maternal healthcare for our women and girls meaning we have a lower percentage of underage girls being forced into early marriages, we have more girls in classrooms and in workplaces.
Secondly, reproductive and sexual health was a taboo issue. Rights of women and girls could not be spoken in public while family planning was a preserve of a few, Female Genital Mutilation was rampant and education for women was picking up slowly.
Today, more women have access to sexual reproductive health services. The number of maternal deaths each year, for example, has decreased by about 40 per cent over the last 25 years and while one in five girls is forced into marriage before age 18, compared with one in three in 1994.
Despite impressive gains, additional efforts are needed to reach out to those who have been left behind. Of much concern is the estimated 214 million women who want to prevent pregnancies and have no access to modern methods of contraception.
It is important to note that over the years, Kenya experienced rapid decline in mortality rates in the 1970s and 1980s followed by an upsurge in mortality at all ages in the 1990s.
However, life expectancy at birth declined from 58 years to 54 years for males and 61 years to 57 years for females in the last decade. The average life expectancy at birth for both sexes was estimated at 62.6 years in 2013, increasing to 63.4 years in 2015. Currently, female life expectancy at birth is estimated at 65.8 years, compared to 61.1 years for men.
The estimates suggest that since the year 2000, life expectancy has increased at a rate of 0.8 years per year. The increase in life expectancy has been attributed to recent declines in both child and adult mortality.
The world must make bold moves to get to the three zeros. These are Zero unmet needs for family planning, Zero maternal deaths and Zero violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
In line with this year’s theme, “25 Years of The ICPD: Accelerating The Promise” we envision inclusiveness and equality for all. We must strengthen conversations to accelerating the promise. But more importantly, we must renew our focus as a nation to leaving no one behind. – The writer is the Director General, The National Council for Population and Development.