Family Planning: A Reappraisal

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Impartial

Much ink has recently been spilt over the controversial and vexed subject of family planning. A few people, mostly belonging to the medical profession, have started to arouse the conscience of the people of this country and to make them alive to the dangers of overpopulation for which, in a way, they are to be held responsible.

Why overpopulation? Most of the diseases that took a great toll of the population are under control. Malaria has been almost completely eradicated. Sulpha drugs, Penicillin and Chloromycetin effectively control a host of diseases hitherto fatal to a large degree.

Even tuberculosis so dreaded before can be effectively controlled with Streptomycin, P.A.S., Isoniazid, etc. Diphtheria has almost completely disappeared nowadays. Children are also successfully being vaccinated against the scourge of infantile paralysis, smallpox, and tuberculosis. Diabetes can now be controlled. Hence, we may safely say that in the recent years there has been an effective death-control. The lifespan of the Mauritian has increased considerably.

Modern surgery combined with safer anaesthetics is saving the lives of many people and so is blood transfusion. The death-control so successfully carried out has brought in its train a host of problems with which the social scientist has got to cope, and these include overpopulation and its consequences which, if not checked, will seriously lower not only the standard of living but also the physical well-being of the human race due to chronic malnutrition over the years.

This is why it is sometimes pertinently asked, why save people from malaria only to let them die of slow starvation? Human conscience however forces us to seek a solution to this dilemma.

The production of sugar on which we depend has increased during the past years and at present varies between 530 and 575,000 tons per annum. This figure has remained stationary more or less during the past few years and it seems – according to the best forecasts of the experts – incapable of rising very much more in spite of all the efforts in that direction. One must remember that the size of the Island is not elastic and cannot be made to increase.

In view of these disturbing facts, one is led so ask: What will be the future destiny of this Island home of ours, if the population continues to increase at this alarming rate – the 2nd or 3rd highest in the world?

This question seriously troubles the mind of the socially conscious people of this Island. At present, the standard of living of our people is higher than that of India, Pakistan, or Ceylon, but it is still very low in comparison with even the poorest European country. It is an accepted and known fact that anaemia exists up to the extent of 90% among the women of the poorer classes. These women are increasingly anaemic because of lack of proper food and their condition is made worse by too close pregnancies. Protein, iron, vitamins, and mineral salts are all too poorly supplied in their daily diet, because they are too expensive.

Let us have a look at the food problem. We have to content ourselves with rice of the lower grade at six times the pre-war price. While a pound (lb) of black lentils, which was sold at 8 cents a lb, is now sold at 60 cents, and it is not available in the open market all the year round. Fish, meat, milk, eggs are sold five to six times their pre-war price.

Ghee is so expensive that even well-to-do people cannot afford to buy the genuine one and have to fall back on the vegetable substitute, inferior on many scores.

Vegetables, which provide the people with vitamins and mineral salts, are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Many vegetable growers find it more convenient and economical to plant sugarcane. What about meat? That commodity used to be sold every day in the market. Now it is available at a prohibitive price only once a week. Is it any wonder that people are anaemic? And what is to become of the future generation born of anaemic mothers? Are they not going to grow into weaklings?

Let us take a look at the schools. Although Government is erecting schools rapidly everywhere, and the Training College is turning out teachers by the hundreds, yet these schools are filled to bursting capacity as soon as they are contracted. The education provided, besides that, is of a diluted nature. All these happen as a result of overpopulation.

We find the same state of affairs in our hospitals. There are not sufficient doctors and beds to cope with the ever-growing number of patients. The Luce report has already focussed our attention on the problem of unemployment which is at the staggering figure of 31,000.

What is to be done? That is the question which all thinking people are asking? Do we have to sit and do nothing in the fond hope that “something will turn up”? Quite seriously, I have heard many people say that nature will right itself in the end — that epidemics will come and wipe out the weak and the ill-nourished. Some people put their hopes in floods, cyclones, or something else they cannot define themselves.

This attitude of let’s-sit-and-wait was adopted by the foreign rulers of a generation ago. The result was devastating. For neither the epidemics nor the bursts of famine had been successful in checking the growth of population. The misery which followed shocked the world. On the other hand, it is an accepted biological fact that fertility increases with a diminished standard of living.

Reforms on economic lines have been elaborated. India had its Five-Year Plan which provided immense benefits to its population. But every beneficial effect of the plan was neutralised by the increase in population. India finding that its people are literally exhausted with excessive childbirths, and that the amount of food per capita is getting less and less every year, decided on a bold step. India elaborated vast programmes of family planning. It was met with very little opposition. Experts came from various countries and offered their help. India first started with the Japanese medical doctor Kyusaku Ogino’s method (“Rhythm Method” of birth control) but failed because of its difficulties. Later it moved on with surer and more scientific methods.

As one result of family planning, the incidence of abortion is bound to go down. Many ignorant people resort to abortion to check the size of their family. Many women resort to abortifacient drugs regularly every month towards the end of the menstrual cycle. Here perhaps it may be said that family planning is going to stamp out a very great evil indeed. Were it only for that, our spiritual and many social workers, should give to family planning their attention.

In Pakistan, Malaya, Indonesia, etc., population pressure is hardly less than that in India. These countries too have gone forward boldly and in the face of opposition with their plans. No doubt such a new idea is bound to be resisted by some ignorant people. Let it be remembered that even in the USA, the amount of opposition around it was considerable and that birth control activist Mrs Margaret Sanger was imprisoned in 1916 for her views. Slowly but surely the people began to understand that what their Government wanted was for their own good. It was a battle to save themselves, their health – physically, mentally -, and economically.

Certain methods of birth control do not appeal to some individuals. It is left to each individual to adopt the method of his choice according to his conscience. The Ogino’s method is said with some justification to be acceptable to everybody. In this connection, experience already gained in India will be of value to us.

Before concluding, I would like to stress that the people who are advocating family planning, whether they are members of the F. P. Association or not, are doing so on purely altruistic motives and are obeying the dictates of their conscience. Opponents of birth control will have to re-examine the whole situation in the light of the views expressed above. They will have to ask themselves whether they are not dooming this country to a certain loss, and whether they will not be responsible for trying to put the clock back. An appeal is made to them asking them to at least respect — if they cannot share the views of their opponents. The road of those who advocate family planning is already an uphill one. People are slow to learn, are slow to adopt any new concept. Let us then not try to frustrate those who are doing the job at great sacrifices.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 November 2023

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