9 February 2007
Mrs Ann Farmer (letters February 2) is right; prosperity does lead to smaller families, and does reduce the birth rate. As prosperity develops people are able to obtain effective methods of family planning and this causes the birth rate to fall. In developed countries, this process started long before the Second World War. In developing countries, the process started much later, but Eastern Asia and South America have now caught up with us.
(The UN gives the following percentage of women ‘in marriage or union’ who use contraception: Western Europe, North America, and South America over 70%. Eastern Asia over 80%)
However, in Africa (and in several countries in the Middle East) contraceptive use is below 30% and populations are rapidly redoubling. For instance, Ethiopia had 18 million people in 1950, and will have an estimated 147 million in 2050. Nigeria had 32 million in 1950, and will have an estimated 222 million in 2050. These rates of population increase make extreme poverty certain, and conflict almost certain.
Fortunately, whilst we work and wait for that elusive prosperity that enables people to obtain family planning for themselves, we can do something more directly. Catholics provide more health care in sub-Saharan Africa than anyone else. We are also more interested in Natural Family Planning than anyone else. If we saw to it that every Catholic medical facility in Africa had an effective NFP clinic we would be making a start.
Dr Gerald Danaher