High fertility rate undermining gains in poverty reduction

Studies say that the fertility rate for Rwandan women is now at 4.5 per cent.
Trained health practitioners talk to women about contraception in Rwamagana. (File)

Gains in poverty reduction in Rwanda and the Sub-Saharan Africa in  general are at risk owing to high fertility rates, which are driving population growth, a World Bank study has shown.

According to the latest biennial poverty and shared prosperity report themed, ‘Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle’, gains in poverty reduction are often minimal or risk being unsustainable due to the high population growth and fertility rates across the continent.

Aghassi Mkrtchyan, a Senior Economist at the World Bank, told The New Times that as the percentage of the population living in poverty across the continent was going down, the impact was not replicated in absolute numbers.

“Across the region, there has been a substantial decline in terms of poverty as a percentage of population. The prevalence of poverty has gone down from 53 per cent in 1990 to 47 per cent on 2013,” he said.

“However, the number of poor people went up because the population has been going up. The percentage may be coming down but the absolute numbers are going up. This is something that requires more attention to ensure that the poverty reduction trend is solid,” Mkrtchyan said.

He added that Rwanda has made progress in regards to health outcomes such as life expectancy but there is need to review fertility rates going forward.

“Rwanda has been doing well in terms of health outcomes, adult survival rates have gone up. What can be done going forward is that  the fertility rate has room to come down, Rwanda has done well in bringing down the fertility rate  and it’s a very good response to increase  life expectancy. With growth in life expectancy and lower fertility rate, there is improvement of overall quality of life,” he added.

Recent statistics from the National Institute of Statistics showed that in Rwanda, over the next 10 years, the population could easily double owing to high fertility rates.

Only 36 per cent of women who are sexually active were estimated to use contraceptives.

Studies say that the fertility rate for Rwandan women is now at 4.5 per cent.

This, they say, needs to come down to about 2.5 (number of children) so that the economy can grow steadily.

Mkrtchyan said that reducing the fertility rate is also important for maternal health as having too many kids is detrimental for mothers.

“There is evidence that higher fertility rate could lead to stunting.  Fertility is part of the equation,” he added.

Other aspects for poverty reduction in Rwanda and across the continent are investments in human capital through aspects such as education and healthcare.