MANDEVILLE, Manchester – Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton says a review and new approaches are needed to safeguard the country's population growth, even as he is concerned about the nation's infant mortality rate.
"The country last year had just over 30,000 births with a neonatal mortality of 15 per cent. There are two issues with that. First of all we are losing too many of our babies. The benchmark standard should be 10 to 12 per cent. Clearly, we want it much lower than that. The last five years we have seen it move from about 13 to about 16 per cent," he said while speaking at the Mandeville Regional Hospital's baby-friendly accreditation ceremony on Friday.
"That's not good; we have to do things to correct that and what we are doing here today is part of the menu of options to respond to that, because we are incentivising the efficient approach to infant, free and postnatal care," he added.
Tufton, who lauded the administrators of the hospital for meeting the standards of accreditation outlined by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children Fund, said Jamaica now has a birth rate problem.
He added that the "two is better than too many" campaign has brought challenges.
"It was a most effective campaign and it led to indeed Jamaicans thinking about not having beyond a certain number of children. Today, the average birth rate per mother is about 1.8 per cent. The ideal number should be just about two or a little over two. It means that we have a population that is currently almost net neutral and on the verge of declining," he said.
"When you take net migration and the birth rate, it means that Jamaica as a population of approximately three million over time at this rate of births will see a decline potentially of its population," he added.
He said a decrease in the country's population could affect the nation's sustainable goals.
"It has significant socioeconomic implications. It means that it will affect our labour force, our competitiveness and, frankly speaking, it will undermine as a society our capacity to realise our full potential. This is something that is not in keeping with the sustainable development goals and the human development goals that we need to have," he said.
"Two is not too many, so we need to change the slogan. A lot of women have decided that they are not having any [children] at all…. People who are pursuing professional careers, the data is suggesting that they are either having none or less than two [children]," he added.
He said others have opted to have more than two children.
"Those who may believe that they have more time, so they are not pursuing that professional career are having more than two [children] — three, four, five — I have even heard 10 and 12 if you go to certain parts of the country," he added.
Minister Tufton, meanwhile, said data suggested that enough is not being done in pre- and postnatal care.
"… That is required for those mothers and their young ones pre- and post-birth. For starters, too many mothers or potential mothers are turning up at the clinic [and] hospitals, when the baby is ready to come out," he said.
"They are missing the multiple visits that are necessary at the health centre or otherwise…," he added.
He said the Government will be looking at policy to treat with sexual and reproductive health.
"I am prepared to say that from a policy perspective, maybe we are not doing enough; maybe we need a review. Maybe the variables have changed, which is why Cabinet has agreed to a concept document that hopefully will lead to a sexual and reproductive health policy in the not-too-distant future," he said.
"… Because the dynamics around sexual and reproductive health has changed significantly in a very substantial way. A lot of the components of it are very controversial," he added.
He said there has been increased community outreach.
"We need that kind of prompting in order to get back on track, so that those who choose to have children do so in a manner that is safe for themselves and safe for the child and, indeed those who don't perhaps could be encouraged to consider it, if they understand the benefits of childrearing," he explained.
"I am not here advocating that everybody go out there go get pregnant, but I am saying this idea around sexual and reproductive health is a current, important idea that has to be discussed," he added.