Jamaica's Health Minister Concerned About the Island's Declining Birth Rates

KINGSTON, Jamaica -Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, has expressed concern about the island’s declining birth rate stating that it could have an adverse impact on the development of various sectors of the country, including its labor force and overall competitiveness.

JBRateParents Anastasia Williams and Creaton Johnson with their daughter Cresia Anna at Alexandria Community Hospital in St Ann. (Photo courtesy of UNICEF/JAM)Tufton made the declaration while speaking at a baby-friendly accreditation ceremony held at the Mandeville Hospital in the central parish of Manchester on Friday.

In expressing concern about a decline in Jamaica’s birth rate, he said that on average, each Jamaican mother is having less than two children, which he said is too low.

“The ideal number (of births per mother) should be just about two or a little over two. Now, what does that mean in its practical sense? It means that we have a population that is currently almost net neutral and on the verge of declining.”

“When you take net migration and the birth rate, it means that Jamaica has a population of approximately three million.

“Over time, at this rate of birth and live births and healthy births, (Jamaica) will see a decline, potentially, of its population.”

He pointed to statistics that indicated that last year, the country “had just over 30,000 births, with a neonatal mortality of 15 percent.”

He said the country is “losing too many of our babies”, and noted that the benchmark standard relative to neonatal mortality should be 10 to 12 percent.

According to him, this scenario and the low birth rate will have significant “socio-economic implications”.

“It means that it will affect our labor force, our competitiveness, and frankly speaking, it will undermine, as a society, our capacity to realize our full potential.”

Meanwhile, he said the baby-friendly accreditation is part of the menu of options for reducing the neonatal mortality rate in the country, “because we are incentivizing the efficient approach to infant, free and postnatal care.”

Concerning the strategies needed to increase the birth rate locally, the minister said while he was not advocating for “everybody go out there and get pregnant,” the country’s birth rate needs to get back on track.

He said community outreach programs would be among the efforts to increase the number of births locally.

“We need that kind of prompting in order to get back on track, so that those who choose to have children do so in a manner that is safe for themselves and safe for the child and, indeed, those who don’t (want to have children) perhaps could be encouraged to consider it if they understand the benefits of childrearing,” he noted 

Tufton added that in the future, a policy to treat sexual and reproductive health in the country will be looked at to boost efforts to encourage more births locally.