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EDITORIAL: Speaking at a recent seminar organised to mark the World Population Day, Federal Minister for National Health Services Abdul Qadir Patel expressed the lament that some elements were trying to create the impression that planned parenthood as well as vaccinations against polio and Covid-19 are not compatible with religion, which he termed “very dangerous behaviour”.

None of this is new, though. Resistance to family planning programme is as old as the programme itself, first launched in the 1960s. More serious is the opposition by certain sections of society to anti- polio inoculation.

Health workers are harassed and attacked. As the minister noted, some 60 health workers have lost their lives while trying to help save children from the debilitating disease which is also contagious, only because of a misconception that it is a Western conspiracy to control Muslim populations. This is an extraordinary challenge requiring extraordinary efforts.

The risk perception regarding Covid-19, however, is overstated although the minister said conspiracy theories abound on social media that claim Covid-19 vaccines also have an adverse impact on reproductive health.

Most people have responded well to vaccination campaigns. Hesitation on the part of some people is not so surprising. Even in the US and several European countries many have been reacting angrily to Covid vaccinations, staging street protests and fighting with health officials.

In any event regardless of what the others may or may not be doing, the minister is expected to come up with his own plan of action to address the population growth rate that at over 2.4 percent is the highest in this region. Consequently, Pakistan has graduated from being the sixth to fifth most populous country.

At this rate, the minister warned, our population is set to rise from the present (as per the last census, nearly 242 million) to 285-300 million by the end of 2030. It is worth noting that at the time of separation from Pakistan in ‘71 the erstwhile East Pakistan, thence on Bangladesh, had more people than the country’s western wing, now they number only 164.7 million (2020 figures).

Three factors have contributed to that country’s remarkable birth control progress, making it a role model of sorts. One has been reaching out to the masses with the message through local clerics and influential religious leaders, preceded by provision of practical support through a network of family planning clinics together with catchy slogans.

At one point, both these last two measures were used in this country as well, but fell through along the way because of blinkered views that have been allowed to spread. In fact, in a sign of weakness, the government has also changed the name of the programme from population planning to population welfare.

If it cannot even assign its agenda a proper designation, it is far less likely to promote the same in an effective manner. Success will come from action rather than telling the people to reject conspiracy theories, and censuring unnamed elements for misleading the public to thwart population control initiatives.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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