Signs of progress are appearing on one of Africa's toughest battle fronts: population control. Behind the flow of grim statistics on the continent's rapid growth rate - the world's highest - there is evidence of changing attitudes and expanding family planning efforts that could lead, experts say, to a slowing of the growth rate. Some indications are:
Acceptance of family planning is on the rise in Africa, according to African and US family planning experts. More and more African government leaders are endorsing the need for population control. And in some places, people want more information and contraceptives than are now available.
Key strategies to make family planning information and materials more widely available are being expanded. Among them:
1. Family planning professionals are training local residents, who then visit their neighbors to promote family planning. This method by-passes the long lines at often-distant clinics and may be reaching people too embarrassed to go to a clinic for information.
This approach is ``spreading like wildfire'' across the continent, says Eric Metzner, regional director in Nairobi for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
2. Several African nations, including Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, are beginning to make contraceptives available at various public outlets, such as pharmacies or tiny village stores. In some countries, radio and television ads are being used to promote family planning.
The battle to slow the African population growth rate (3 percent in sub-Saharan Africa) has high stakes. In some African nations, population pressures are speeding a deterioration of the environment, according to a new report by Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based private research organization.
As the population grows, the demand for firewood increases, and trees that add nitrogen to soil and slow erosion are being cut down. Land not suited for good farming is being worked to provide food for larger populations, hastening transformation of the land to desert conditions, according to the co-authors of the report. Denuded soils produce less food and can add to famine conditions.