By Matthew Bresnahan

ZARQA/AMMAN – Jordan’s expected population growth will have a major economic, social and environmental impact on the Kingdom, according to USAID Mission Director in Jordan Jay Knott.

At the current growth rate of 2.3 per cent, Jordan’s population is expected to double from six million to nearly 12 million persons by 2040, USAID experts estimate.

Such an increase calls for a greater focus on public health and healthcare issues in the country in order to overcome a high prevalence in obesity, diabetes, cancer and hypertension, Knott said following a media tour of several USAID-sponsored projects in Zarqa on Monday.

To address mounting health problems, USAID and its partners in Jordan are focusing on family and women’s health with projects that seek to increase the Kingdom’s capacity to treat patients and raise awareness on prevention methods, he noted.

“Changes in behaviour can help address these issues,” Knott said, pointing out that many USAID programmes in Zarqa focus on instilling positive habits and behaviours in young Jordanians and women.

At the Zaina Bint Al Awam School near Zarqa, students are taught about the dangers of cigarette smoking and aspects of family planning, such as the importance of birth spacing for the health of mothers and their children.

They also receive information on oral hygiene, diabetes prevention and cancer, while the school hosts workshops and lectures for community members on the same topics, according to Eman Al Oneen, a teacher at the school.

Creating a sex education curriculum for public schools across the Kingdom and family planning material for newlyweds are two components of the Jordan Health Communication Partnership’s (JHCP) awareness efforts that were on display during Monday’s tour.

The JHCP also worked with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs to create a unique sex education module that can be distributed to local religious figures, and it has trained 400 imams throughout the Kingdom on the material, according to JHCP Deputy Chief of Party Rula Dajani.

With the support of USAID, Prince Feisal Hospital’s maternity ward and emergency room facilities were expanded to help accommodate the nearly half-million people in the area, according to the hospital director, Dr. Talal Obeidat.

Knott invoked Jordan’s past successes in “conquering malaria” and achieving a high vaccination rate, praising the country’s current efforts to create a healthy, capable generation of Jordanians.

“We’ve already seen that the results can be dramatic,” he said.

“Three years ago, 70 per cent of breast cancer patients were diagnosed in the third or fourth stages of the disease; now, there has been a dramatic shift towards women being diagnosed in the first and second stages,” when the disease is more easily treated, he pointed out.

Jordan is also seeing lower maternal mortality rates and increased rates of survival for premature infants as a result of development and awareness efforts.

Last year, Jordan received $513 million in aid from the US, $29 million of which was allocated to the health sector and healthcare improvements, according to the USAID mission director.