Friday, June 01, 2018

A Population Opportunity

The decline in fertility rates combined with increased life expectancy in most parts of the world means not only a slowing of population growth but also an older population. The UN report predicts that the number of people aged 60 and over will more than triple by 2100, accounting for 3.1 billion people. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Global Health and Aging report attributes the increase in elderly population to a change in causes of death, from infectious to non-communicable diseases. Treatment of these diseases, which include hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and congestive heart failure, add pressure to the health care system.

Prof Mark Collinson of the South African Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN), the Medical Research Council and the Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), says that in the last 20 years fertility rates in Africa have dropped, the working age population has risen and dependency ratios (the number of dependents supported by the working age population) have declined. 

Collinson, who will be speaking at the Africa Health Congress 2018 at Gallagher Estate today (29 May) says that this demographic dividend is a potential developmental gain created by window of time where fertility has fallen for several years but the ageing population has not yet risen significantly. This can usher in a golden moment when there are relatively few young and few old, and hence a large working age to non-working age ratio. Collinson says that this demographic dividend could account for 11-15% gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 2030 in many African countries, but that policies are needed to enhance the education and employability of young adults, as well as to create greater access to contraception and financial systems.

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