Population vs your health

If you live in Malawi, did you know that government has only set aside K6 376 a year for your health needs?

The National Statistical Office (NSO) released preliminary results of the 2018 Population and Housing Census yesterday which show there were about 17 563 749 people in the county when it was conducted in September.

Patients queue to get medication from a pharmacy at a public hospital

However, the health twist—although rather unhealthy, if not startling— is that your slice of the K112 billion allocation for healthcare government slotted in the K1.45 trillion budget only translates into just K531.33 a month.

According to commissioner of statistics Mercy Kanyuka, Malawi’s population has grown by 35 percent for the past decade at a pace of 2.9 percent, up from 2.5 percent in 2008.

Up to 84 percent of the population comprises rural dwellers, who largely rely on State-funded clinics for free health services. This represents a three percent rise from 81 percent recorded 10 years ago when NSO tallied a population of 13.1 million.

The predominantly rural population would have been hit hard by off-pocket payments were the donors not paying K62 on every K100 the healthcare system spends.

The allocation for health services per person remains low, but aptly illustrates how rapid population growth stretches public resources, said Malawi Health Equity Network (Mehn) executive director George Jobe and Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dan Namarika.

“The population pressure is not only having adverse impact on the healthcare system, but it is a development issue.

“A 35 percent population increase in 10 years is huge. We still need to do more in terms of population management. The major push is the age at which a Malawian girl has the first child. A woman who gives birth at a very young age has a higher likelihood of having more children,” he said.

According to the 2015 Malawi Health Survey, an average Malawian woman is likely to have over four children in her lifetime.

Boys and girls below 18, the legal marriageable age, comprise 51 percent of the population, according to the new census.

“It is worrisome that the median age at which girls get pregnant is 17, which is below the legal marriageable age. They run a bigger risk of having a big family they cannot adequately take care of at a time 51 percent of the population is dependent,” said Namarika.

The call for improved investment in the youth come just four years after the MDHS indicated that about half of women marry before their 18th birthday and 29 percent of adolescent girls get pregnant before reaching 24.

Namarika urged boys and girls to remain in school until they reach their potential as a way of steering clear of teen pregnancies.

“We know that health expenditure per capita is still on the lower side, but this should motivate us to look at how we can sustainably manage our population. That’s the reason population management, at this level of economic growth [averaging 4.2 percent over the 2013-17 period], should be high on the agenda. We need to emphasize on long-term family planning for all,” he said.

According to MDHS, about 42 percent of married women and 52 percent of adolescents have no access to modern contraceptive methods.

Jobe said the country needs to tackle population growth, which exerts immense pressure on the health sector.

He warned against the popular urge “to have just enough children you can adequately provide for”, saying government still pays for other costs—including health and education.

“Just K6 736 per person is too low for anyone. Of course, donors step in to support the healthcare system, but we need to find a way to keep the population at a level where the country can meet its needs without depending on donors,” he said.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) countr y representative Young Hong said the desired change in sexual and reproductive health pattern begins in the home where family planning helps people to decide when to have a baby and how many to bear.

POPULATION CENSUS

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