Uzbek Doctors Fear Baby Boom

Medics fear a critical shortage of contraceptives in Uzbekistan could push up the birth rate.

Uzbek Doctors Fear Baby Boom

Medics fear a critical shortage of contraceptives in Uzbekistan could push up the birth rate.

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities, UNFPA, which supplied Uzbekistan with 80 per cent of its contraceptives last year, says supplies of Intrauterine Devices, IUDs, will run out in a few days time.

UNFPA representative Konstantin Sokolov said funding for IUDs, supplied free to Uzbek women, had dried up, "This year our fund lost several donors, and as a result of the decrease in financing, we had to cut the deliveries of contraceptives, and that's turned into a serious problem."

The Ministry of Health said the annual rate of population growth, which has come down to 1.7 per cent from 3.2 per cent in the early 1990s, may be pushed up by the shortage in IUDs. "The shortage of contraceptives may lead to demographic changes," warned Feruza Rakhmatullayeva, a specialist in healthcare for mothers and children at the Uzbek health ministry.

Rakhmatullayeva said that in Uzbekistan, where oral contraceptives and condoms are expensive and not widely available, more than 40 per cent of women used IUDs.

Ali Saatov, head of the UNFPA in Uzbekistan, said the UN began supplying Uzbekistan with contraceptives in 1993. "From 1993 to the beginning of 1999, our fund supplied 50 per cent of all contraceptives brought into the republic, and in 1999 that figure was 80 per cent," he said. This year, however, due to lack of financing, the organization has supplied only 17 per cent of the amount needed to meet the demands of the population.

The Ministry of Health promises that the issue will be resolved, and says the UNFPA has promised to find resources to supply Uzbekistan.

The state began to provide free contraceptives to women in 1991.The government has been reluctant to introduce more radical measures, such as limiting the number of children for each family, as these could be viewed by the local population as interference in their personal life and would be contrary to Muslim beliefs.

Nevertheless, young married women are invited for consultations at clinics and encouraged to have coils fitted and to receive contraceptive injections.

"My wife was invited to a clinic after giving birth to her second child and told they wanted to fit a coil. I told her that it was bad for her health and forbade her from going to the doctor," said Shukhrat, a young father from Tashkent.

Because of the reluctance of Uzbek males to use contraceptives, Uzbek doctors prefer to address family planning issues to women. According to some reports, in maternity wards in rural regions of Uzbekistan, women are fitted with coils straight after giving birth. The rural regions have the highest birthrates, with each family having on average 4-5 children.

According to the chief doctor at Birthing Clinic No. 3 in Tashkent, Umida Faizieva, the decision whether to offer a women contraceptives is taken on a case-by-case basis. But now, her clinic has no supplies of coils left. "Our supplies ran out back in May-June, and there haven't been any more deliveries, and as far as I know there aren't any in the city at all," she said.

Faizieva, whose clinic deals with 3,500 women a year, said she still has some oral contraceptives, but not enough, "We sign women out of the birthing clinic and inform the polyclinic in the area where they are registered that a woman has left without contraception."

The Ekosan Ecological Fund says that by 2050, the population of Uzbekistan will have doubled to 50.3 million.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR's project editor in Tashkent.

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