Dr. SJA Jafri
KARACHI, Apr 12: Fertility rates in South Asia are the highest in Afghanistan followed by Pakistan. Since the last 14 years, Pakistan’s fertility rate has not decreased even by 1%. It was 4.1% in 2004 and 3.6% in 2014, says the British Medical Journal (BMJ) coveted collection Health in South Asia.
The compilation, containing 12 articles, was launched at a ceremony in New Delhi. Over 60 researchers, from South Asia and outside, including experts from the Aga Khan University, have contributed to the collection, stressing what should be the regional health priorities and recommending actions to improve public health.
Professor Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Founding Director of AKU’s Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health and Co-Director of SickKids Centre for Global Child Health, Toronto and Dr Samiran Nundy, Dean of the Ganga Ram Institute for Postgraduate Medicine and Research (GRIPMER), India have steered this initiative.
“In order to deal with the issue of high fertility rates, the priority should be to educate people and empower each country’s women. Take the example of Bangladesh that took initiatives and invested in education and female empowerment. Today Bangladesh is far ahead of Pakistan in many maternal and child health indicators,” said Professor Bhutta. He added that empowered women are more inclined to seek healthcare when in need, have improved health, education and long term outcomes. Around 13 years ago, The BMJ published a review of the state of maternal and child health in South Asia and highlighted rampant poverty, malnutrition and lack of women empowerment as key barriers to change. The current update suggests that while there has been progress, it has been uneven and wide disparities persist.
Professor Bhutta underscored the importance of scientific collaboration and partnerships in the region to address priority issues and gaps in public health.
Dr Nundy reinforced the need to foster stronger ties among the countries in South Asia. “We have the same problems – poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to health care. It’s now time we get together and work out regional solutions. The BMJ collection is a start,” he said.
Now the current collection focuses on public health of South Asia where gender disparities, malnutrition and social inequalities are widespread and over 300 million people live below the poverty line, according to Professor Bhutta.