18 December 2012

Uganda: New Population Report Throws Up Old Warning

We are growing way too fast.

If the Ugandan population continues to grow at an annual high rate of 3.2%, there will be 54 million people in the country in 2025 and 130 million by 2050, the State of Uganda Population Report 2012 launched last week says.

The high fertility rate of six children per woman is the biggest driver of population growth in Uganda. This is further compounded by the unmet need for family planning that stands at 34% of married women. Population figures show that some 1.7 million babies were born in Uganda this year alone. This increased the country's population from 33 million in 2011 to 34.1 million today.

The rising population figures however, are not matching the meagre resources, plunging the country in a dire situation. Take health, for example; with the population of 34.1 million people, the country has barely 2,000 doctors. This means that for every 17,050 people, there is one doctor. And most of the doctors are based in urban settings, leaving the rural areas without trained doctors.

In countries like Cuba, the doctor patient ratio is one for every 170 people, in Germany its 1:300, in Italy it is 1:240 and Belgium 1:220. And the health centres, too, are still too few. Though every district should have a hospital, that need remains hugely unmet. There are three national referral hospitals, 12 regional referral hospitals, one military hospital and two prison hospitals, which are too few for the country.

In education, while primary school enrolment has risen from 7,537,000 in 2007 to 8,374,000 in 2010, the teacher-student ratio has not changed at 1:60. The minister for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Maria Kiwanuka, says it is clear that the government is struggling to increase the resource allocation for the health sector. Currently, government expenditure on health accounts for about 10% of the budget while education takes up 15% of the budget.

"What plans have we put in place to ensure that this population is catered for in terms of social services and other basic needs? What capacity do we have to ensure that our population is also an opportunity for Uganda's development, equipping our young people with competitive skills that can add value to the products of our human resources?" Ms Kiwanuka said while launching the report last week.

And, the report notes, Uganda's demographic trends are changing. Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, the report reveals. A total of 78% of Ugandans are below the age of 30 and 52% below 15. There are 6.5 million Ugandans in the age group 18-30 years and these constitute 21.3% of the population. This age group is projected to grow to 7.7 million young people in 2015.

"I want to sound a warning that Uganda could easily experience a demographic disaster if the country fails to address the growing challenges of a rapidly growing population whose growth is not matched by an improvement in the quality and quantity of affordable services in health, education, housing, water, sanitation, and care and protection of vulnerable populations," Kiwanuka said.

This year's population report, with the theme "Uganda at 50 years, population and service delivery: challenges, opportunities and prospects", urges government to focus on why population is outstripping the available resources.

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