Press Conference on Preparation for National Population Summit 2015

November 02, 2015

 Press Conference on Preparation for National Population Summit 2015



Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar said, Pakistan’s growing population is indeed an enormous challenge that is impacting upon every aspect of our individual lives as well as our collective destiny. Our population has grown rapidly more than six times since our independence. Today we are the sixth largest country in the world. While She was addressing a press Conference on the objective of  Preparation for National Population Summit 2015


Minister said, A key reason why Pakistan is lagging behind most regional and Muslim countries in terms of completing its demographic transition and improving its reproductive health indicators has been wavering of political commitment and unsustained support by past governments to the population issue. Population has never been declared a national priority. A strong policy statement from the top leadership of this country as well the political and religious leaders would make up for lost time and reassure us of the commitment to tackle an important national and provincial issue with a strong consensus. It is for this reason that the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination and Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms and the Population Council, supported by UNFPA, Packard Foundation and Gates Foundation, is organizing the Population Summit from November 5-6, 2015 in Islamabad.


She said It is indeed heartening that in 2015 there is a consensus across all major political parties, religious leaders and across the provincial and federal leadership that we need to deal with high fertility and unbridled population growth and its harmful impact on individual health and societal wellbeing.


She further said, There are now new opportunities and new realities available to Pakistan. There is a new opportunity to highlight and incorporate population issues into the Vision 2025. With Human Capital as one of its pillars this framework provides an opportunity to embody key strategies and trajectories to be followed for human development, health and population nationally and in the provinces.


Saira Afzal Tarar said, There is a chance to further utilize the newly evolving SDGs, which have been signed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan in September 2015, and to bring about alignment with Population and Health and Growth strategies in the provinces. Given the 18th Amendment and devolution of the population and health sectors in the country, it is important, for the provinces to make their own commitments to this goal. A process has been followed to ensure ownership of these goals at the provincial levels and for the charting out individual of provincial health and population strategies. The provinces are also in the process of developing their own provincial population policies.


Saira Afzal Tarar said,  In 2012, Pakistan attended the London Summit on Family Planning and made a commitment to raise its contraceptive prevalence rate and lower the unmet need for family planning. In September 2014, at a meeting entitled “Prioritizing Family Planning for Achieving Provincial Maternal Child Health and Development Goals”, representatives of provincial ministries of health and population welfare of the four major provinces revised their goals to align with the CPR commitment. The new CPR goals for 2020 are 55% in Punjab, 45% in Sindh, 42% in KP, and 32% in Balochistan. These new goals have now set the stage for accelerated family planning programming in Pakistan’s provinces. The goals are being integrated into both the provincial health and population welfare programs. In addition, provincial budgets are now reflecting greater commitment to prioritizing population issues by including the costs of contraceptive commodities (hitherto provided by donors) and other additional programmatic expenses such as communications in their respective 2014 and 2015 budgets. This summit will provide us an opportunity to reaffirm our national and provincial pledges.


She said Through this Summit, we also intend to announce a change in the narrative we have used for explaining the population issue confronting Pakistan. In the past the advice to have fewer children has been incorrectly perceived as part of a western agenda to reduce the size of the Muslim ummah. These experiences indicate a need to change the family planning narrative, to shift the focus from economic and demographic concerns, and express the need for planned families in a new paradigm that is socio-culturally and religiously acceptable, and that people can easily relate to. One of the most influential mediums that can help change the narrative is the country’s vast network of religious leaders. The words of religious leaders count; they influence the views and behaviour of the general public as well as political opinions. Recognising this reality, most Muslim countries obtained religious support right at the start of their respective family planning programmes that helped in sustaining political commitment. However, Pakistan has not made a serious effort to bring religious leaders on board. This has been one reason that has contributed to Pakistan’s lagging behind most regional countries in terms of family planning uptake.


She said The response from religious leaders and scholars (ulema) has been highly encouraging. Particularly in the various consensus building events arranged by the Population Council. Convinced by the evidence, religious leaders have not only come out unequivocally in support of birth spacing as a means to regulate fertility but have also stressed upon the need to give due attention to providing proper care, attention, nutrition and education to girls. Their position is that, according to the Holy Quran, the foundation of a harmonious family is laid upon love and care and the Quran enshrine the rights of mothers, children and the families. Therefore, the imposition of any hardship that could jeopardise the health and wellbeing of any member of the family is contrary to the principles of Islam. The Quran clearly articulate that mothers should breastfeed their children for two whole years. The narrative is now changing. The government is now emphasizing the new paradignm of ensuring the health and wellbeing of mothers, children and families. We are focusing healthy individulas as drivers of economic growth, development and prosperity. The ulema appreciate the shift in the rationale for family planning advocacy from the economic emphasis of the past to the more human and relatable objective of improving family health and wellbeing, and saving mothers and children from premature, pregnancy-related deaths.


Minister said The Ulamas have reassured us that theyare ready to work with the concerned government departments to fully disseminate religiously acceptable messages on birth spacing. For this purpose, they are prepared to make themselves available at any forum, be it the pulpit of a mosque or an appearance on the electronic media, to help bring a change in public opinion on birth spacing and improving family health and wellbeing. This unique opportunity must be taken up by policymakers to remove the impasses on public thinking on population issues.


She said we expect that at the summit four Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister of Pakistan all underscore the provinces’ and regions commitment both of funding and high level resolves for achieving FP2020 goals and other development goals. Apart from focusing on the political leadership the summit will also bring forward the religious leadership’s final endorsement of how Pakistan has to accelerate its birth spacing/FP efforts. The Population Summit will also be an occasion to articulate a multiparty consensus on the issue; an opportunity to re-pledge for FP2020 goals at the national level (as a composite of the provincial FP2020 goals) and arrive at a National Consensus Statement on Population and Development.

The Population Summit 2015 will be attended by about 500 delegates from across Pakistan and about 25-30 international participants. It will be held at the Jinnah Convention Center on November 5-6 2015.