KINGSTON — Minister of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, says with the world population reaching seven billion persons on October 31, equal opportunities must be created for all, in particular Jamaica’s youth and elderly.
These are deemed the larger groups in the world, as youth 24 years or younger make up more than half of the world's population, while the ageing population accounts for a significant portion.
"Jamaica's population stands at 2.7 million and counting and our reality is that we are faced with a polarised situation in which we now have a tremendous number of young people among our population and on the other end we have an ageing population. We have to strike a balance and to ensure that both these groups are adequately served as we move forward,” the Minister said, in a message read by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Eva Lewis-Fuller.
The message was delivered at the launch of the state of World Population Report-2011-‘The world at 7 billion’, at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital, in downtown Kingston, on October 31.
Youth, Mr. Spencer said, will be largely responsible for future development globally, adding that they need to be empowered in terms of access to information, education, economic opportunities and contributing to the decision making process in the country.
"It is always an economically sound decision for any country to invest in their youth population and in Jamaica this is being done through the social sectors of health and education. This is the time when important skills are developed, ideas and concepts are at their peak and the overall social capital, which the country requires, is being created. These augur well for the long term growth and sustainability of any economy," he said.
The Minister argued that in this economic climate, it is a challenge globally for young persons to find jobs that provide a decent wage. “We therefore need to put some emphasis on entrepreneurship in our education system, so that we can prepare our youth to become self-employed and rise above the hardships in the system,” he said.
Turning to the ageing population, he said the challenge will be to provide an adequate social security blanket, adding that a recent World Bank Report advises countries and communities to “develop a number of policies that support long, productive lives for their workers and keep older people healthy and mobile for as long as possible."
Mr. Spencer said one way in which the process can be assisted is to provide adequate primary health care services, and that Jamaica has made significant investments in the renewal of primary health care.
“The components include the rehabilitation of health centres, 48 of which we have already completed, an improvement in the number of working equipment available in our facilities for which we now have a programme of repair and rehabilitation and staffing. In terms of staffing, we are in the process of developing a proposal to attract more health workers to rural communities,” he said.
Mr. Spencer said the elderly population is also challenged by emerging health issues, such as the increasing incidence of chronic non communicable diseases. “These diseases are responsible for two thirds of deaths in older people worldwide, 77 per cent in developing countries and 56 per cent of deaths in Jamaica,” he informed.
He commended the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for continuing to bring emphasis on these issues and helping countries, including Jamaica, to make improvements, especially in health care.
Some of the findings of the report indicate that over the last 60 years, the average life expectancy moved from about 48 years in the early 1950s to 68 years in the first decade of the new century. Infant mortality plunged from 133 deaths per 1,000 live births in the 1950s to 46 per 1,000 in the period from 2005 to 2010.
Additionally, the fertility rate declined by more than a half from about 6.0 children per woman to 2.5 per woman because of economic growth and development, increased access to education, more opportunities for women, and sexual and reproductive health services.
On October 31, 2011, the world population reached a record 7 billion – one billion more than 13 years ago and 6 billion more than the early 1800s.
By Chris Patterson, JIS Reporter