February 24, 2012 | The Editors

Global health and population

From time to time, people ask us about unexpected consequences of our work to improve health in poor countries. They’re committed to that goal, but they wonder about the link between improved child survival and ongoing population growth.

How do improved child survival rates affect overall population? Over the years, data from many countries show that when the death rates of children ages five and younger decline, fertility rates also eventually drop. In other words, when children survive, parents have smaller families.

For a vivid and entertaining demonstration of this trend, watch this video of Hans Rosling speaking at a June 2010 TED conference. Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, has developed visualization software that brings to life the link between childhood mortality estimates—mostly taken from United Nations data—and fertility rates. His conclusion? Child survival is essential to stabilizing global population.

To plan a family

What contributes to child survival? Public health services, such as immunization, prevention and treatment of diarrheal disease, improved nutrition, safe birth, and family planning. In many instances, people already want smaller families. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, estimates that more than 200 million women worldwide who aren’t using contraceptives want to delay or avoid pregnancy. From our beginnings 35 years ago, PATH has been committed to providing women and men with tools and information to help them plan when and whether to have children.

The real reason

Our work may contribute to population stabilization, but that’s not the reason we do what we do. We work to improve health so that all children have a chance to grow up—to live long past their fifth birthdays, unaffected by disease—and become healthy, productive adults that can build thriving communities wherever they live.

Interested in more?

We’ve compiled a short list of resources:

Global health quiz

On Tuesday, we asked if lowering childhood death rates raises population. Data show that as childhood survival rises, fertility rates decline over time, which may stabilize population growth.

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