Zanzibar — “WE give birth a lot in Zanzibar, let’s reduce the number of births to give the mother a break. Maternal and child deaths are high and are related to women giving birth too much,” this message was delivered by the Isles Minister of Health, Nassor Ahmed Mazrui in two separate occasions as a warning on consequences of population growth.
He first issued the statement in the Zanzibar House of Representatives when legislators discussed the Health Ministry budget with disappointing figures of maternal and infant mortality, asking lawmakers to advocate for birth control by promoting child spacing.
Mr Mazrui repeated the statement when receiving a vehicle from the UNFPA representative in Tanzania, to help in coordinating reproductive health services, calling for urgent need for child spacing, underlining that the 3.7 per cent rate of population growth in Zanzibar is among the fastest in the world.
“When I talk about maternal and child mortality, some people with conservative misconception and taking religion as prohibiting child spacing think we just want to stop them from having many children. Data showing pregnant mothers dying is shocking and giving birth to many children without proper spacing is among the main reasons,” Mazrui said.
He narrates that Mnazi Mmoja referral hospital is overwhelmed by expectant mothers, leading to sharing of a bed (in labour-waiting room/ward, up to three people), “And most women remain reluctant to family planning as they fear to be divorced if they press for child spacing.”
During the handing over of the vehicle, Mr Mark Bryan Schreiner, UNFPA Representative in Tanzania said that ensuring the availability of quality reproductive health services requires effective coordination and multiple hands on the steering wheel to drive reproductive health programming forward.
He emphasised on ending preventable maternal deaths, unmet needs for family planning, gender-based violence and harmful practices and improving adolescent and youth wellbeing.
He said that although the Ministry of Health Zanzibar reports the number of women who died in health facilities due to childbirth complications has gone down from 70 in 2021 to 53 in 2022 and the newborn deaths have also dropped from 542 in 2021 to 421 in 2022, maternal mortality in Zanzibar continues to be alarming and reproductive health issues continue to be one of the leading causes of deaths.
He also observed that the use of family planning which is acknowledged in reducing maternal deaths remains to be low (14 per cent) and the unmet needs is among the highest (28 per cent), “Our goal is zero unmet need for family planning to ensure no woman dies while giving life.”
Dr Fatma Mrisho- Principal Secretary, Ministry of Health said population growth attributed to unplanned child birth affects women, “While the government in collaboration with development partners improve health services, women and men must also work together to control child birth, with emphasis on spacing aiming at giving a relief to mothers.”
Minister of State, President’s Office (Finance and Planning) Dr Saada Mkuya Salum says “Population growth means we should have more land, housing, social needs (water, schools and health facilities) and economy to meet individual and national needs.”
“We must act now to control the population boom which has direct impact on individual families, land allocation and distribution of essential needs like health, water, food and sanitation,” she said, calling for increased awareness to the public including promoting family planning.
Results of the 2022 Population and Housing Census, the sixth post-independence census, which took place for ten days from August 23, indicates Tanzania’s population is around 61.7 million, including the Zanzibar population of 1.8 million (including majority women 974,289).
On July 11 it was the World Population Day (WPD), and the 2023 theme is “Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities.”
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the global population is increasing rapidly, bringing forth a range of challenges and issues. Poverty, economic concerns and maternal health are just a few of the areas affected by the growing population.
It says WPD serves as a reminder to work towards addressing these issues and striving for a better future for everyone on the planet, “The annual observance aims to raise awareness and educate people about the global population and its associated challenges.”
The UN organisation says women and girls make up 49.7 per cent of the global population, yet women and girls are often ignored in discussions on demographics, with their rights violated in population policies.
This pervasive injustice keeps women and girls out of school, the workforce and leadership positions, limits their agency and ability to make decisions about their health and sexual and reproductive lives and heightens their vulnerability to violence, harmful practices and preventable maternal death, with a woman dying every two minutes due to pregnancy or childbirth.
The UNFPA 2023 State of World Population report illustrates that when women and girls are empowered by societies to exert autonomy over their lives and bodies, they and their families thrive and it is because of this that the Minister is promoting child spacing or family planning as one of the major solutions to maternal and child mortality.