Population growth 'greater threat than AIDS'

Posted: 1 November 2005

Africa's growing population could pose more of a threat to reducing poverty on the continent than HIV/AIDS, say researchers, writing in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

In some African countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, where AIDS is rife, populations are expected to remain static or fall. However, the number of people living in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Somalia could treble to 40 million each by the middle of this century. In Uganda, the population could soar from 29 million to 127 million.

"Continued high fertility rates and rapid population growth could prove to be more serious obstacles to poverty reduction than AIDS in most, although not all, African countries," said John Cleland, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In Asia and Latin America, family planning has reduced population growth and is credited with helping to improve prosperity. But since 1960 the number of Africans has risen from 225 million to 751 million. By 2050 it could hit 1.69 billion.

Cleland and Steven W. Sinding of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), acknowledged that AIDS is a major contributor to poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and that its prevention must remain a high public health priority.

"Fears about AIDS, although well founded, should not eclipse the issue of high fertility and population growth," Cleland said in a report published online by The Lancet.

The authors called for more family planning services, particularly in countries with high fertility rates. More information is also needed on the benefits of having smaller families. They also recommended that family planning and HIV prevention programmes must also be linked.

Source: Reuters Alertnet, October 25, 2005