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Africa At The Turning Point

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe leading the way, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are at a critical turning point in their efforts to address the dual challenge of rapid population growth and poor reproductive health, according to a new study from Population Action International (PAI). The region's prospects for economic development largely depend on the success--or failure--of governments in accelerating efforts to expand family planning services and to combat deaths in pregnancy and childbirth and from AIDS.

Sub-Saharan Africa's population has doubled in just 25 years to 620 million--and is projected to double again in less than three decades, even after taking into account declining birthrates and rising deaths from AIDS. For more than 20 years, population growth of almost 3 percent a year has outpaced economic gains as well as increases in food production, leaving Africans, on average, 22 percent poorer than in 1975.

"The development challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa are made greater by rapid population growth and poor reproductive health," says C. Payne Lucas, President of Africare and a PAI Board member. "The impact of other investments in the region will be undermined unless governments move quickly to address these problems."

Fortunately, African governments are increasingly taking steps to address these challenges. Today, two-thirds of countries in the region have active family planning programs, up from just a handful in the early 1980s. This dramatic change in government policy has been accompanied by a fundamental shift in peoples attitudes towards childbearing, according to the PAI study, Africa's Population Challenge: Accelerating Progress in Reproductive Health. Urbanization, the rising cost of education and other basic needs, and the improved chances of survival for children are all affecting the traditional preference for large families. The decline in birthra
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Contact: Sally Ethelston
sae@popact.org
202-659-1833
Population Action International
3-May-1998


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