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Kenya's population to stagnate as Somalia and Uganda rise

Tuesday April 9, 2024

ONE IS ENOUGH: Kenya's total fertility rate (TFR), will decline further to about 1.8 (one or two children) in 2050, and reduce to 1.4 in 2100. Image: PEXELS

The number of children born in Kenya from 2050 may not be enough to sustain the country’s population size for long, new projections have shown.

This means several years later, Kenya’s population could shrink unless there is immigration from other countries.

The projections have been attributed to the consistent fall in the number of children born to a Kenyan woman over her lifetime, from eight in the 1950s to less than three today.

The number, known as total fertility rate, will decline further to about 1.8 (one or two children) in 2050 and reduce to 1.4 in the year 2100.

In general, countries need to have a total fertility rate of 2.1 children (replacement level) to sustain their population size.

The new projections have been published in the Lancet journal.

“Human civilisation is rapidly converging on a sustained low-fertility reality,” authors of the study said.

Their study projects fertility trends in 204 countries and territories until 2100.

It is part of the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries and Risk Factors Study 2021 – a global research effort led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

In projecting falling fertility for Kenya, the researchers assumed that by 2030, the country will have achieved universal female education or universal access to contraceptive, the two key drivers of fertility.

They said Kenya’s population will continue to increase naturally until the total fertility levels remain consistently below 2.1 children.

“In many ways, tumbling fertility rates are a success story, reflecting not only better, easily available contraception but also many women choosing to delay or have fewer children, as well as more opportunities for education and employment,” said senior author Proffessor Stein Vollset from IHME.

The decline in fertility is not unique to Kenya.

“Fertility is declining globally, with rates in more than half of all countries and territories in 2021 below replacement level,” the researchers said.

The report says by the year 2100, only six countries (Somalia, Niger, Chad, Samoa, Tonga and Tajikistan) will have fertility rates exceeding 2.1 births per female.

However, because most fertility rate levels in Africa are still above two children per woman, the population will continue to rise even as fertility reduces.

In total, just 26 countries are still projected to be growing in population naturally (live births exceeding deaths) in 2100, including Uganda and the six above.

The experts said sustained low fertility will produce a population with fewer young people relative to older people before the end of the 21st century.

“Unless governments identify unforeseen innovations or funding sources that address the challenges of population ageing, this demographic shift will put increasing pressure on national health insurance, social security programmes and healthcare infrastructure,” the report said.

“These same programmes will receive less funding as working-age, tax-paying populations decline, further exacerbating the problem.”

The study is titled, “Global fertility in 204 countries and territories, 1950–2021, with forecasts to 2100: a comprehensive demographic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021.”

It was produced jointly by hundreds of scientists from around the world. Scientists from Kenya were Dr Dickson Amugsi of the African Population & Health Research Centre and Dr Josephine Ngunjiri from the University of Embu.

The authors said although fertility rates have tumbled drastically in rich countries, the reduction is too slow in Africa.

They therefore predicted huge shifts in the global pattern of livebirths from higher- to lower-income countries.

In 2021, 29 per cent of the world’s babies were born in Sub-Saharan Africa, but by 2100, this is projected to rise to more than half (54 per cent) of all babies.

“These future trends in fertility rates and livebirths will completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power and will necessitate reorganising societies,” said co-lead author Dr Natalia Bhattacharjee from IHME.

Another author said Africa’s population growth will only worsen the growing strain on food supplies in the future.

“As most of the world contends with the serious challenges to the economic growth of a shrinking workforce and how to care for and pay for aging populations, many of the most resource-limited countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be grappling with how to support the youngest, fastest-growing population on the planet in some of the most politically and economically unstable, heat-stressed and health system-strained places on earth,” said senior author Proffessor Stein Emil Vollset from IHME.

Gitau Mburu, James Kiarie and Pascale Allotey from the World Health Organization, who were not involved in the GBD study, said the findings largely agree with population growth estimates made by the United Nations.

However, they criticised the assumptions the authors made to conclude that most countries’ fertility rates would fall below 2.1 by 2100.

“Assumptions made within a model can underestimate or overestimate effects. By assuming that a contraceptive demand satisfied rate of 100 per cent could be achieved in multiple countries by 2030, the authors chose an ambitious but unrealistic assumption, because women might choose not to use modern contraceptives for a variety of reasons,” Gitau and his colleagues said.

“Currently, 75 per cent or higher is considered a realistic target and no country reports a contraceptive met need of 100 per cent.”

Gitau and his colleagues also noted that low total fertility rate per se is not necessarily bad.

They said the choice to have few or no children has to do with personal values, individual self-fulfilment and choice and might not be subject to policy directives.

They worried that faced with declining populations, some countries might try to reverse the trends by restricting access the contraception.

“Declines in TFR should not be used to limit or coerce utilisation of contraception, abortion, or fertility services,” they said.


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