In his lecture on population and development shown recently on BBC2, Professor Hans Rosling chose to highlight Bangladesh as an example of a poor nation where the fertility rate has dropped significantly, from 6.3 births per woman in 1971 to 2.3 in 2010. This decrease has resulted from the recruitment of female health workers who deliver family planning services and health advice door-to-door. And the average number of births per woman isn’t the only surprising fact for a nation which still ranks in the lowest income group of countries.
Though Bangladesh is still very poor (around half its population live on less than a dollar a day), a recent article in the Lancet (referred to in the Guardian) highlights how the nation has managed to make significant improvements in key health indicators such as the maternal mortality rate, which has dropped by 75% since 1980 and life expectancy, which has risen to an average of 68 years. Progress in child health has also been strong, with infant mortality more than halving since 1990.
Great strides, but further to go
But though Bangladesh has seen great progress since independence, there are still many areas where further development is vitally needed. Since so many families survive on or below the poverty line, child malnutrition remains worryingly high, with more than two-fifths of children stunted or underweight (according to 2005–2012 data from the World Health Organisation). The health of children also suffers from low rates of breastfeeding.
Experts are hoping that diet and rates for breastfeeding will improve as more girls become knowledgeable about the importance of the right nutrition through education. Thanks to certain educational policies which have encouraged families to send their daughters to school, in Bangladesh girls now attend primary and secondary school in equal numbers to boys.
However the report in the Lancet strikes a cautionary note about the future health of Bangladeshis, noting the rise of chronic non-communicable illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. As in many other nations, as a section of the population becomes more affluent and changes its lifestyle, these new health threats will prove a significant challenge to the country’s evolving health system.
SOS Children has worked in Bangladesh for 40 years. Learn more about our work...