Namibia’s population grew from 1.8 million in 2001 to 2.1 million in 2011, while it is estimated to be at 2.5 million this year.
According to health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula, the life expectancy at birth increased from 60.24 to 63.7 years from 2011 to 2020 as projected and the fertility rate declined from 4.1 in 2011, compared to 3.26 in 2021.
Shangula was speaking during the marking of the World Population Day, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The day is commemorated on 11 July every year and seeks to raise awareness of global population issues.
“Although Namibia is not one of the populous countries in the world or on continent, we pay attention to population issues because they are key in determining and ensuring health, development and economic progression of any country irrespective of size and/or economic status,” he noted.
Namibia has been partnering and receiving enormous support from the United Nations specialised agencies and affiliate organisations, including UNFPA, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), WHO, UNAIDS, the World Food Programme, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and other development partners in addressing population and related issues.
“These great achievements were made possible through Namibia’s continued adaptation, designing and implementation of key evidence-based interventions, including immunisations against preventable diseases, implementation of maternal quality improvement collaboratives (MCHQIC) and intensification of maternal and perinatal death reviews,” said Shangula.
Namibia is not sparred in terms of challenges to providing and addressing population health issues.
“The Hepatitis E outbreak and the pandemic have exposed vulnerabilities of the health system. The access to sexual reproductive services during lockdown was negatively impacted as well as increase in teenage pregnancies, among others. Namibia, like all other countries, is experiencing an economic downturn due to Covid-19 and other factors,” highlighted Shangula.
He added the increased maternal deaths, congested health facilities, high Covid-19 infections among health workers, limited global travel and impact on supply and stock level of essential medicines have played a role in negatively impacting the healthcare system.
UNFPA country representative Sheila Roseau said the pandemic may have lasting consequences on the population – and for some, it has led to postponing childbearing; for others, disruptions in health care have led to unintended pregnancies.
“Although we have yet to get a full picture of the impact of Covid-19 on fertility, these trends have provoked alarming concerns about baby booms or busts,” noted Roseau.
She said what leads to healthy and productive societies is when women can make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health, and when they have access to services to support their choices.
“Covid-19 has laid bare stark inequalities and weaknesses in healthcare systems within and among countries. The crisis has caused many overstretched health systems to scale back sexual and reproductive health services, which are often not deemed essential,” she said.
She said while these services are a human right, they have been shunted aside in favour of more “pressing” concerns.
Amid economic pressures and budget cuts, there is a real risk that some countries may fail to restore these services.
Roseau said even if health systems are understandably strained, these services cannot wait and any further delays will curtail the health and well being of women and girls, consequences that can last a lifetime. “Let us work together to uphold the right to decide when and if to have a family and let us stand up for the rights and choices of all women and girls,” she urged.