Lesotho on Saturday joins the rest of the globe in commemorating World Population Day.
However, the celebrations come at a time the country is still experiencing high rates of maternal mortality and HIV prevalence—a sad reality highlighted by Development Planning Minister Mokoto Hloaele in a speech read on his behalf by the ministry’s Acting Principal Secretary Teboho ‘Mokela during a World Population Day seminar held in Maseru on Monday.
World Population Day is observed on 11 July every year, and the event seeks to raise awareness of population issues. It was inspired by “The Day of Five Billion,” when the world’s population stood at five billion people on 11 July 1987.
World Population Day commemorations are meant to help save lives, slow the spread of HIV and also encourage equal rights for men and women. This, in turn, helps to reduce poverty and stabilise population growth, creating healthier and more prosperous families and communities and a better world.
Monday’s seminar, which tackled issues related to population and demography, included experts from the Demography Department of the National University of Lesotho (NUL), the Ministry of Health and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
World Population Day is commemorated with a variety of activities and events to draw the attention of policymakers and communities on the interrelationship of population and development. Some of the activities include seminars, educational information sessions, poster-competitions, songs and speeches.
UNPFA has identified this year’s theme as ‘Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies’.
According to statistics, over 60 million people worldwide are displaced due to war or disasters, of which women, children and the youth account for over three-quarters.
Girls and women in crises situations face much greater risk of sexual abuse, exploitation and violence as well as forced marriages, reproductive health-related illnesses, and death due to lack of protection and absence of support to address their needs.
Every minute, a woman in the developing world dies from treatable complications of pregnancy or childbirth. With better access to healthcare, half a million women’s lives and seven million infants wouldn’t needlessly die.
“In a similar way, Lesotho has its own set of challenges and crises situations whereby young women, elderly women and girls experience sexual-abuse and domestic-violence,” Mr Hloaele noted.
“Although we are not in an emergency situation from natural disasters or armed conflict, we could be regarded to be in a crisis that requires attention because of the high rates of maternal mortality, which is 1 155 per 100 000 live-births and HIV prevalence at 23 percent.”
The minister lauded the organisers for covering the issue of maternal deaths which he said ranked highly among the challenges Lesotho faced.
“This is because according to the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Report, Lesotho’s maternal mortality ratio is one of the highest in the region despite considerable efforts taken by government together with different stakeholders,” Mr Hloaele said.
“Though there have been some improvements in other maternal health indicators, there is still a lot of work to be done in delivering a state where every pregnancy is safe.”
Such seminars, he said, should stimulate discussions on the pertinent issue of maternal mortality.
“It will also provoke the academia to do more research on important population and development agenda,” the minister added.
In her remarks, UNFPA Representative to Lesotho, Therese Zeba, called for collaborative efforts from all sectors to ensure the prevention of maternal deaths and the prevalence of HIV which causes AIDS.
It is for that reason, she added, that the UNFPA partnered with NUL to investigate the underlying causes of maternal deaths in the country.
Zeba also expressed concern on the unavailability of condoms in “strategic areas” such as hotels, saying it set back the fight against HIV/AIDS.