Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Birth control is imperative to reduce hunger and poverty 17 Aug 2022

Last month, Emmanuel Shior, the Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) in Benue State, an agency that coordinates the deployment of resources for effective prevention, mitigation and response to emergencies in the state, made a crucial revelation during the monthly distribution of food and other items to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps across the state.

Dr. Shior said that in the space of seven months, over 70 new births had been recorded from IDP camps across the state. Benue IDP camps, just like other IDP camps in different parts of Nigeria, rely on aid from state and federal governments, and the international community. Deliberate but unplanned increase in the population of IDPs through childbirth amidst shortage of survival resources particularly food, continuous increase in the cost of living, inflation, financial crisis and global economic slowdown will have a multiplying effect on hunger statistics and promote severe hardship.

Whether a group of people are internally displaced or not, birth control is an essential tool that must be embraced by individuals and government authorities in the fight against hunger and poverty in Nigeria and Africa at large. A recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) shows that Africa is home to 278 million undernourished people out of 702 – 828 million people who suffered hunger globally in 2021. Severe food insecurity affects 23.4 per cent of Africa’s population while 57.9 per cent experience moderate to severe food shortages as reported by the State of Food security and Nutrition in the World, 2022. To bring the numbers closer to home, 19.1 per cent of Nigeria’s population is grappling with severe hunger, about 39.4 million people.

Countries with high birth rates on the continent tend towards lower standards of living compared to those with low birth rates, which significantly impact the quality of life. In 2020, the World Bank reported that birth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was on average 34 births per 1000 people. Countries like Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Chad, Mali, and Niger had 40-45 births per 1000 people, while Sierra Leone, Malawi, Cameroon, Benin, Zambia, Mozambique, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, Burkina Faso, and Burundi had 32-38 births per 1000 people. These countries are the top twenty countries in SSA with the highest birth rate.

It is not mere coincidence that the most developed countries in Africa, according to the World Population Review and the top African countries with the best quality of life index score as reported by Business Insider Africa, are countries with lower birth rate. The Quality of Life Index is a quantifiable criterion for the determination of living conditions and purchasing power of citizens of different countries. Mauritius, Seychelles, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, South Africa, and Algeria which happen to be some of the most developed countries in Africa had birth rates of 11-23 births per 1000 people based on World Bank estimate, followed by Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana with 25-29 births per 1000 people.

Although there are other factors that influence standards of living, quality of life and level of development in different countries, when we give birth to children that we cannot provide a good and enjoyable life, we are consciously or unconsciously destroying the future of our nation. Individuals of reproductive age must take responsibility for the lives we bring into existence. If the Nigerian government for example, truly desires a better life for its citizens, it has a responsibility to enlighten the populace and put measures in place to support effective Planned Parenthood popularly known as Family Planning.

To be sure, there are numerous economy-building strategies that countries in SSA can adopt to promote sustainable development including massive industrialization and anti-corruption policies. But if we refuse to have a good plan for our family size in SSA based on household economic status, we might continue to wallow in hunger, poverty, and economic stress, which worsen people’s susceptibility to other social vices and crises.

Effective and safe methods of preventing pregnancy have been in existence since the 20th century, making it possible for people to respond to sexual desires without the fear of unwanted conception. Birth control methods are available for both men and women. The barrier method and the hormonal method are the main methods of pregnancy prevention.

The barrier method is a non-hormonal method of birth control which prevents pregnancy by blocking sperm from reaching the female egg to fertilize it. Examples of barrier method of birth control include male condom, female condom, diaphragm, spermicide, contraceptive sponge, and cervical cap. These methods are 71-88 per cent effective in pregnancy prevention.

Hormonal methods of birth control contain estrogen and progesterone, or progesterone alone, and prevent pregnancy by reducing or stopping the release of egg and/or thickening the cervical mucus to hinder the movement of sperm through the cervix to fertilize an egg, or changing the lining of the womb to make it difficult for fertilized egg to be implanted. Hormonal methods of contraception include oral contraceptives (pills), birth control injection, vaginal ring, implant, hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) and skin patch which can be used by women for pregnancy prevention. These methods are 91-99 percent effective for pregnancy prevention if properly used, and they are reversible. They can be stopped or removed at will. Side effects are usually mild and vary from one person to another: nausea, breast tenderness, missed period, weight gain or loss, headaches, decreased libido, and so on. Some of these sometimes resolve within 3-4 month of usage.

Researchers are still working towards making effective and reversible hormonal contraception available for men; but at present, vasectomy – i.e., male sterilization – hinders sperm from getting into the semen when a person ejaculates thereby preventing pregnancy. This permanent method of contraception has no effect on sex drive and is 100 per cent effective.   

Country and continent-wide education on birth control measures is highly essential to eliminate myths and misinformation hindering the use of birth control techniques in SSA. Many times, some people just adopt a method without proper guidance from a reproductive health worker. A method may have been chosen by ‘A’ based on his/her health condition which may not be applicable to ‘B’. More so, the methods vary in terms of duration, depending on how soon a person will be ready for conception. Some are short-term while others are long-term, ranging from 3 to 5 or 10 years.

The health status of an individual is usually put into consideration before any method can be selected. Without proper guidance, an individual intending to conceive 5 years after a previous birth may select an option that permanently blocks reproduction. Cases of this kind promote the myth that giving birth after using contraception is difficult. However, the rate of pregnancy during the subsequent year after any of the aforementioned methods is stopped or removed is the same as for a normal person who didn’t use a contraceptive. Wrong use of contraceptive pills, especially the emergency pills popularly known as “morning after” pills, should be discouraged.

Research has shown that long-term use of oral contraceptives (pills) for pregnancy prevention increases the risk of breast and cervical cancers. For cervical cancer, 10 per cent risk increase was observed for women taking pills for less than 5 years, 60 per cent risk increase for those taking it for 5-9 years and the risk is doubled for those who use it for 10 or more years. On the other hand, oral contraceptives have also been demonstrated to reduce the risk of endometrial, colorectal, and ovarian cancers. Therefore, for long-term use, other methods of contraception are advisable.

Birth control strategies have numerous health, social and economic benefits. Spacing of births allows for full body and mental recovery from a previous birth. Smaller family size makes it easier for households to save money, invest in quality education, make meaningful future plans, and adjust to harsh economic changes. Government authorities have a responsibility to not just make birth control methods available but also cheap. People in distress conditions should be supported to have it for free with the aim of reducing their hardship.

SEMA and other relief agencies should be bold to introduce birth control options when necessary. We cannot prevent a person from having sexual desires because he or she is hungry or less privileged as is the case in IDP camps, but we can significantly reduce the birth of more people who will suffer chronic hunger and poverty by promoting birth control.

Mojisola Karigidi, PhD, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.