ISLAMABAD-Pakistan’s population will double in 30 years if urgent action for reducing the current growth rate of 2.4 percent and achieving a sustainable and balanced population growth not taken, said Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza on Wednesday.

He said this while addressing legislators at a national dialogue on Pakistan’s population challenge co-hosted by the Population Council and the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination supported by UNFPA here.

The dialogue was attended by over 70 members of the Senate, national and provincial assemblies representing major political parties including PTI, PML-N, PPPP, ANP, MMA, MQM Pakistan, GDA, BAP, and BNP.

The minister further added that population is a national issue and should be dealt with a unified approach by all stakeholders.

At the dialogue, legislators were apprised on Pakistan’s commitment to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on providing universal access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for its people.

Pakistan along with 179 other countries is signatory to the plan of action adopted at the ICPD conference, which was held in Cairo in 1994, recognising that reproductive health, women’s empowerment and gender equality are the pathway to sustainable development.

In her opening remarks at the dialogue, Lina Mousa, UNFPA Country Representative to Pakistan said that UNFPA stands committed to its contribution and support to the government of Pakistan on its ICPD commitment to expand family planning services critical to improving reproductive health, reducing fertility and reaching a balance between population growth and socio-economic development of the country.

Political will and leadership are fundamental to improving women’s access to reproductive health and rights information, education, and services, Mousa concluded.

At the 25th anniversary of the ICPD this year, Pakistan will present the 2019 ICPD25 statement promising a renewed commitment to providing universal access to comprehensive reproductive health care to its citizens.

The Pakistan delegation will attend the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 and partake in its agenda to mobilise the political will and financial commitments to implement the ICPD Programme of Action. Through global consultations with different stakeholders, the Summit will be centred on achieving the Zero unmet need for family planning, Zero preventable maternal deaths and Zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women, girls and youth.

Dr. Zeba Sathar, Country Director, Population Council presented the recommendations made by the task force constituted by the Supreme Court in 2018 and endorsed by the Council of Common Interests to address rapid population growth in Pakistan. Highlighting these recommendations which comprise eight major sectors namely ensuring universal access to family planning and reproductive health services, finances, legislation, advocacy and communication, curriculum and training, contraceptive commodity security and role of ulema, Dr. Sathar stressed upon investing in women’s education and employment.

During the discussion on parliamentarians’ role in meeting the population challenges confronting Pakistan, moderated by Senator (retired) Javed Jabbar, there emerged a multi-party consensus on dealing with the population issue to put Pakistan on the path of sustainable socio-economic development.

Legislators endorsed the need for new and stronger legislation for mandatory provision of family planning and mother and child health services through all public and private sector facilities. Recognising that population growth is a cross-sectoral issue that impacts all aspects of national life, elected representatives made several constructive proposals and thoughtful observations on aspects of promoting balanced family size. The legislators were of the view that access to family planning services can be expanded through functional integration of provincial health and population welfare departments.