Egypt struggles to curb rampant population growth
Cairo - Egypt has begun an effort to convince citizens to have smaller families, as rampant population growth in the country of 93 million is projected to reach 128 million by 2030.
“This is very dangerous because the population can reach a stage that would see the government failing to satisfy the needs of the people,” warned Deputy Health Minister Maysa Shawky, who is responsible for national family planning policies. “Reducing the population growth is not optional anymore.”
The National Population Council, an agency within Egypt’s Health Ministry, launched the programme August 1, with a target of married couples limiting their number of children to two. That is no easy feat in a country where many families, especially poorer households, tend to have a large number of children.
The council is offering free contraceptives, including birth control pills, and fertility-lowering medications at almost 6,000 state-run clinics. The programme will cost Cairo $7.5 million and analysts said that, if it reduces predicted population growth, it will be worth every penny.
The campaign will involve health specialists travelling to Egypt’s countryside to talk about reducing population growth.
“This is a comprehensive campaign that will reach citizens everywhere,” Shawky said. “Everybody must cooperate in achieving the goals of the campaign if we really want a better future.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last May said: “Population growth is a big issue and is a challenge no less dangerous than the challenge of terrorism.”
Egypt’s economy is growing at less than 4% a year and analysts said this is insufficient to keep pace with projected population growth.
“Population growth is turning into an impediment to economic development,” warned Amr Hassanein, an economics professor at Cairo University. “Economic growth aims primarily to achieve economic welfare for the people but this welfare will never be realised in a country that struggles to feed its population.”
The government is enlisting the help of Egypt’s religious establishment, with a new centralised Friday-sermon system in which imams across the country on August 4 dedicated their Friday sermon to discussing population growth.
Religious Endowments Minister Sheikh Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, whose ministry dictates the topics of the sermons, told those praying at a mosque in Cairo that family planning had become a “necessity.”
“The strength of countries is not measured by the number of their population but by the health standards, education and the welfare of this population,” Gomaa said.
Birth control and family planning as concepts have often brushed aside as irreligious by some religious leaders and scholars.
“These are real impediments on the road of the success of any family planning campaigns in the future,” said Hatem Hassan, a family planning consultant at the National Population Council. “The success of these campaigns will primarily be achieved by addressing misconceptions about birth control and shattering the religious stigma in this regard.”