Cuba Tries to Drive up Fertility amid Baby Slump


Associated Press stresses the Cuban government’s efforts to take action to improve sexual and reproductive health, due to their worries about the country’s birth rate. [Also see previous post Cuban government continues efforts to boost economy.]

Daymarys Gonzalez’s first attempt to have a child ended with an ectopic pregnancy at age 31. She stopped trying to conceive after a miscarriage the following year. Now, the 37-year-old pet-bird breeder is unexpectedly pregnant again, and Cuba’s communist government is doing all it can to make sure she has a successful delivery. Three months before her due date, she’s living fulltime at a special government medical care center for women with high-risk pregnancies as part of a broad campaign to drive up a birth rate that has fallen to the lowest in Latin America.

Years of fewer births mean the number of working-age people in Cuba is expected to shrink starting next year, terrible news for an island attempting to jumpstart its stagnant centrally planned economy.

The country’s governing Council of Ministers announced this week that it will soon unveil yet-unspecified financial incentives for couples considering starting families. It had already expanded maternity, and in some cases paternity leave, to a full year with pay.

The government also has opened dozens of special centers for infertile couples and special maternity units. At one of the centers in central Havana, Gonzalez and 50 other expectant mothers chat and watch television as nurses check their blood pressure and happy babies smile down from posters on the wall.

“We’ve been evaluating this low birth rate for years,” said Roberto Alvarez Fumero, chief of the maternity and child health unit at Cuba’s Ministry of Health. “Now we’re taking action to improve sexual and reproductive health, which can help drive up the country’s birth rate.”

Cuba’s baby problem is a result of some of the most notable successes of its 55-year-old socialist revolution: more working women with professional jobs and universal access to medical care, which includes contraception and free, legal abortion. It’s also a product of its failures: a lackluster economy, persistently high levels of emigration by young people and an island-wide housing shortage.

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