High mortality among children in poor households has not slowed down Kenya’s population growth as families beget more children in case some die.
The most current data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics under the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) launched on Wednesday shows mortality among children under five years stands at 7.4 per cent, while that of infants is at 5.2 per cent.
This means that for every 100 children born, five die while out of the remaining 95 children, seven never get to celebrate their fifth birthday.
Though child mortality under the age of five has come down considerably from 11.5 per cent in the last survey in 2003, through efforts such as immunisation, the number is still high.
“If women are not guaranteed that their child will live to adulthood, they will give birth to more of them so that in case two die, they have three left. It is a security precaution they take, but at the expense of the country in terms of social and economic impact,” said Mr Alfred Khang’ati, an assistant minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The current issue of The Economist echoes this sentiment by pointing out that since child mortality is higher in poor countries, the replacement rate is also much higher compared to rich countries.
The 2008/2009 DHS has reported the lowest fertility rate in the history of the country, at 46 children per 1,000 or 4.6 per cent, half the rate in 1975.
However, despite the rosy picture, experts point out that it is still too high.
“As a country, we can not develop in any significant way since demand will always outstrip supply. At the end of the day, the government will not meet the needs of the population,” said Mr John Mukui, a development policy consultant.
The global average fertility rate is 2.3 per cent. On a positive note, 92 per cent of Kenyan women attend ante natal care, which has helped to reduce child mortality.
But child delivery at health facilities remains a big challenge, currently standing at 43 per cent.
Vision 2030, the country’s development blueprint, has noted the high population growth as a key challenge.
At the current rate, analysts say the growth will impede targets set in Vision 2030.
But as the country struggles to curb child mortality, more efforts will need to be made on family planning measures as it is a key driver of controlling population growth.
It is not until the 2008/2009 budget that the government took family planning under its wing, previously left to willing donors.
Fertility rates are much high in rural areas, at five children per woman.
In urban areas, with access to family planning centres and better health care facilities, fertility stands at 2.9.
Only 46 per cent of married women surveyed use family planning methods.
The link between poverty and fertility is another major factor affecting development and planning.
Mr Christopher Omollo, a senior manager in population and social statistics, told Business Daily that North Eastern province had the highest fertility rate of about 5.6 compared to Central and Nairobi at about two.
Slowing down population growth has its merits.
“The government can adequately provide for its citizenry,” said Mr Khang’ati.
The survey, done once every five years, used a sample size of 10,000 households.