Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Egypt's Family Planning Program Is Beginning to Show Results

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Egypt's Family Planning Program Is Beginning to Show Results

Article excerpt

Egypt's Family Planning Program is Beginning to Show Results

"Abu Ktiir," whose name means" father of many," is the paternal character in a series of Egyptian cartoon messages encouraging family planning. His son, Wahid, complains about how there is no place for him in a home filled with six other children and an everpregnant mother. Another ad features a boy of about 10, covered in motor grease, working in a car repair shop and daydreaming. He envisions himself in new school clothes, skipping through a field with a backpack, enjoying the carefree childhood he is missing. The message is that planning a family protects children from a burdensome youth.

One New Baby Every 24 Seconds

Since the 1960s, runaway population growth has been recognized by the government as the biggest threat to the health of the nation. Last year, Egypt's population rose by 1.3 million, an increase of one baby about every 24 seconds. At present growth rates, the current population of nearly 58 million is expected to double by the year 2015. President Hosni Mubarak has repeatedly warned that overpopulation threatens to spoil government efforts at economic reform.

Longstanding state programs promoting family planning and child spacing still face such challenges as religious opposition, misuse of birth control methods and misinformation about pregnancy. Therefore, the State Information Service opened a center in 1979 to encourage family planning. Called the IEC (Information, Education and Communication Center), it airs messages on television and radio promoting consulting a doctor rather than relying on information from friends and relatives, and spacing births by at least two years. Its messages over the past three years have illustrated birth control methods, including the IUD, oral contraceptives and condom packages.

When the IEC was founded, only 24 percent of married Egyptian women were utilizing contraceptives. The number increased to 30 percent by 1984, to 38 percent by 1988, and to 48 percent by 1990. By now the Egyptian government can point to a statistically significant decline in fertility rates since it began promoting family planning. While women had an average of 5.2 children in 1980, the number was down to 4.4 by 1988. Numbers vary by region and educational level, however. Only one woman in 10 in rural upper Egypt was practicing family planning when the demographic and health survey was conducted in 1988 by the National Population Council, an organization founded in 1985 in part to spread family planning services.

"In upper Egypt, they prefer to have a female doctor and, if there is no female doctor, the husband may refuse to have her examined," says Mohamed Amin, the IEC's director of interpersonal communication and local programs.

Relatively low use of birth control methods is not for lack of knowledge about the products. Ninety-eight percent of married Egyptian women aged 15 to 49 know of at least one method of birth control. However, only 60 percent of those surveyed had ever used a family planning method. Although women's stated ideal family size averaged 2.9 childrein half of the women questioned were not using a birth control method at the time of the survey.

In addition to underutilization of methods, another problem is misuse. …

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