Cuba needs more babies

 havana-live-love-is-in-the-airHAVANA, June 26  Cuba’s government  is looking to promote a higher birth rate and providing funding for fertility treatments, as Cuba tries to rescue itself from an aging population.

A phenomenon that once had been restricted to academic and scientific circles has in recent years entered the public discourse and the agenda of the Council of Ministers, which in October approved a policy to combat the complex demographic problem, starting with efforts to increase the number of children born per mother to two or more.

The island’s Population and Development Studies Center, or CEPDE, says the economic and social challenges the country faces due to its aging population are mainly related to the country’s low birth rate, which has been below the replacement level (less than one child per woman) for 36 years.

“A lot of my female friends don’t want a second child, and others are weighing whether to have their first one. I think the economic problems weigh most heavily (on their decision),” Iselmys Gonzalez, a 28-year-old Havana resident and mother of a two-year-old girl who is not currently planning to have more children, told EFE.

Her pregnancy, like those of most of her friends, was an “accident,” and she carried it to term for medical reasons, Gonzalez said, adding that in a different scenario “I sincerely wouldn’t have had it; I would have waited several more years.”

Several couples interviewed by EFE in Havana said housing and economic problems in Cuba, whose economy went into a tailspin with the loss of subsidies from Moscow following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and where low salaries make it difficult to raise children, are a direct cause of low birth rates.

But CEPDE’s director, Juan Carlos Alfonso, said in May that the island’s low birth rates cannot be attributed only to the economic crisis or emigration and instead have multiple causes, including the emancipation of women in socialist Cuba.

Endocrinologist Kenia Rodriguez, who heads Cuba’s main in vitro fertilization center, said there is “total” acceptance on the island for this procedure and clear political will on the part of the government, which is funding a free, nationwide assisted reproduction program that includes four hi-tech IVF institutions, two of which were opened in 2014 outside of the capital.

“The government has put a lot of resources into this. It’s a priority, and it remains to be see what’s missing to improve the results,” she said.

In addition to the measures announced by the Council of Ministers to improve the fertility rate, an additional priority of President Raul Castro’s government will be implementing “fiscal and pricing policies” that promote childbirth, although no concrete measures have yet been unveiled. EFE