UNICEF, WHO urge Philippine government to improve public investment in support for breastfeeding, child and maternal health programmes – Philippines

MANILA, 2 August 2017 – UNICEF and the World Health Organization jointly urged the Philippine government to increase national investments to raise breastfeeding rates pointing to a low 34 per cent of Filipino children under six months that are breastfed exclusively. Both United Nations agencies underlined the strong need to increase government investment in health and nutrition.

The agency representatives echoed the message from the recently released The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which evaluated 194 nations in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, and found merely 40 per cent of children younger than six months globally are breastfed exclusively and only 23 countries have achieved exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 per cent.

The scorecard was released at the start of World Breastfeeding Week alongside a new analysis demonstrating that an annual investment of only US$4.70 per new born is required to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50 per cent by 2025.

“Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “Breastmilk works like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive.”

State of breastfeeding and nutrition in the Philippines

Both agencies point to the low 34 per cent exclusive breastfeeding coverage of Filipino children under six months relating the rate to the critical state of malnutrition and undernutrition among Filipino children.

In 2015, around 2.8 million Filipino children under 2 years of age were undernourished due to sub-optimal breastfeeding practices. As a result, around 7,500 Filipino children under 2 years of age die annually due to undernutrition resulting from inadequate breastfeeding practice.

“Children’s right to life, healthy growth and development is non-negotiable. This is why we need support from the highest level of government in advancing policies and supporting investments for our children and mothers’ health and nutrition, right at the onset of pregnancy and all the way to the child’s second birthday,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Lotta Sylwander.

Evidence shows that breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and their mothers. It is especially critical during the first six months of life, helping prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major causes of death in infants. Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, two leading causes of death among women.

The annual investment needed for breastfeeding education and promotion in the Philippines is estimated to be at least US$700,000 . However, annual investments by the national and local governments are far from reaching this amount. The Philippine Development Plan recognises that breastfeeding should be fully promoted and supported. Through its National Policies on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF), the Department of Health has adopted WHO recommendations on breastfeeding practices.

One of the recommended evidence-based actions to improve breastfeeding rates is to support paid maternity leave and encourage and support women to breastfeed in the workplace. The Expanded Breastfeeding Act (RA 10028 of 2009) requires providing workplace breastfeeding for working women so they can continue to breastfeed their children even when they go back to work.

Ms Sylwander added that UNICEF continues to work with government and civil society partners to strengthen mechanisms to better implement existing laws and push for the formulation of policies that further protect and promote breastfeeding; to enable mothers and children to reap its benefits.

The global picture

The economic burden associated with sub-optimal breastfeeding in 2015 was estimated at US$240.6 million. This includes health care costs and forgone future workforce due to child mortality.

Nurturing the Health and Wealth of Nations: The Investment Case for Breastfeeding, suggests that meeting this target could save the lives of 520,000 children under the age of five and potentially generate US$300 billion in economic gains over 10 years, as a result of reduced illness and health care costs and increased productivity.

However, investment in breastfeeding is also far too low globally. No country in the world fully meets recommended standards for breastfeeding, according to the Global Breastfeeding Scorecard. Each year, governments in lower- and middle-income countries spend approximately US$250 million on breastfeeding programmes; and donors provide only an additional US$85 million. Investment case shows that in five of the world’s largest emerging economies — China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria — the lack of investment in breastfeeding results in an estimated 236,000 child deaths per year and US$119 billion in economic losses.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective is thus calling on countries to:

  • Increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through two years.

  • Fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly resolutions through strong legal measures that are enforced and independently monitored by organizations free from conflicts of interest.

  • Enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, building on the International Labour Organization’s maternity protection guidelines as a minimum requirement, including provisions for the informal sector.

  • Implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in maternity facilities, including providing breastmilk for sick and vulnerable newborns.

  • Improve access to skilled breastfeeding counselling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programmes in health facilities.

  • Strengthen links between health facilities and communities, and encourage community networks that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.

  • Strengthen monitoring systems that track the progress of policies, programmes, and funding towards achieving both national and global breastfeeding targets.

Breastfeeding is critical for the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals. It improves nutrition (SDG2), prevents child mortality and decreases the risk of non-communicable diseases (SDG3), and supports cognitive development and education (SDG4). Breastfeeding is also an enabler to ending poverty, promoting economic growth and reducing inequalities.

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