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Coronavirus

Population Questions, Pandemic Answers

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Rozena Crossman

COVID-19 makes us think about things we should've been thinking about anyway. And since the beginning of the outbreak, we've all been keeping a closer eye than usual on the hard truths of statistics: From daily global emissions (down by 17%) to the number of precarious workers in the world (1.6 billion), as well as those scary new pandemic numbers of death tolls and transmission rates. But there is one big stat lurking in the shadows that coronavirus puts in a new light: the human population on planet Earth.

"It took hundreds of thousands of years for the world population to grow to 1 billion – then in just another 200 years or so, it grew sevenfold," says the UN's website for World Population Day. This annual event, which took place this year on July 11th, is meant to raise awareness about the dangers of overpopulation for both humans and the planet. It is a problem that COVID-19 may have exacerbated, as counterintuitive as that may sound, as pregnancy rates have tended to rise in countries forced into lockdown.

"Fathers, control yourselves! Ladies, you can have sexual relations. You can get married. But don't get pregnant!" Since the pandemic began, these messages can be heard blasting on loudspeakers across Indonesia. According to the Jakarta Post, the government projects an additional 400,000 births this year. With the fourth-largest population in the world, Indonesia had previously tried to implement a family planning policy limiting households to only two children. Now, many couples are afraid to venture to the hospital or gynecologist for fear of contracting the virus.

People wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong. — Photo: ​May James/SOPA/ZUMA

In India — the world's second most populous country — women's access to both abortions and birth control have been limited since their confinement period began. This is partly due to an obvious lack of mobility, but is compounded by a disrupted supply of contraceptives and the conversion of many public health spaces into emergency coronavirus centers. Some Indian health experts find the problem so worrying, they are arguing that reproductive health should be included in the COVID-19 management plan.

Meanwhile, a U.S. study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 1 in 3 American women had a hard time accessing reproductive health care and birth control due to quarantine measures.

The importance of access to reproductive health care and education cannot be overstated when it comes to population control. A recent study by medical journal The Lancet found that the overall human population may begin declining during the second half of the century, largely due to access to birth control and reproductive education for women all over the world.

The momentary spike in the birth rate during the pandemic is another cause for reflection, and a reminder that the health of humans is ultimately linked to the health of the planet.

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