The United Nations children’s agency and the World Health Organization launched the Global Breastfeeding Collective on Tuesday (01/08), calling on governments across the globe to make smart investments aimed at increasing political support for breastfeeding.
“We need to act now to fully realize the benefits of breastfeeding. Prioritizing breastfeeding will save lives, money and will lead to better health and economic outcomes for generations to come,” France Begin, a senior adviser on infant and young children’s nutrition at Unicef, told reporters during a virtual press conference last week.
The Global Breastfeeding Collective is a partnership of 20 international agencies, led by Unicef and WHO, which aims to improve breastfeeding rates worldwide by promoting smart investments and assisting policymakers and non-governmental organizations in implementing available solutions to the issue.
During the launch, which took place at the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week on Aug. 1, the collective also released a report titled “Nurturing the Health and Wealth of Nations: The Investment Case for Breastfeeding.”
That report includes seven recommended priority actions and calls on governments to enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, improve access to skilled breastfeeding counseling and strengthen links between health facilities and communities, among other things.
“Breastfeeding is not only an investment in improving children’s health and saving lives, but also an investment in human capital development that can benefit a country’s economy,” said Lucy Sullivan, executive director of 1,000 Days, a non-profit organization working toward ensuring a healthy first 1,000 days for mothers and children across the globe
The collective said it is critical for breastfeeding to be initiated within one hour of birth and continued exclusively for six months, and then continued with complementary foods until the infant reaches two years of age.
Currently, only 40 percent of babies worldwide are breastfed exclusively for the first six months. The initiative has targeted an increase to 60 percent by 2030, and believes that it can be achieved through appropriate funding in the creation and maintenance of programs to assist mothers, families, infants and health workers.
However, meeting the global target for breastfeeding would require an additional investment of $570 million annually, over the course of 10 years.
Present annual funding is at $85 million by donors and $250 million by governments in low and middle income countries. This means that many countries would need to scale up investment to meet the goals.
Increasing breastfeeding rates is estimated to save 823,000 lives per year among children below the age of five.
Furthermore, the report also highlights that countries lose more than $300 billion each year due to low rates of breastfeeding, attributed to higher mortality rates in women and children and higher healthcare costs due to increased illnesses and diseases.
“Many people understand the importance of breastfeeding, but too often they assume that responsibility can be placed entirely on the mother [without] consideration of the political, social, environmental factors that shape breastfeeding [practices],” said Laurence Grummer-Strawn, a technical officer at the WHO.
Breastfeeding in Indonesia
The rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Indonesia increased by 3 percent from last year and is estimated at a total rate of 45 percent, according to the director general of public health at the Ministry of Health, Anung Sugihantono.
Anung said most children in the country die from preventable diseases, such as diarrhea and pneumonia, each year.
Studies have shown that improved breastfeeding can prevent infants from contracting these diseases, making a case for Indonesia to invest in promoting breastfeeding across the country.
Furthermore, data shared by Unicef and WHO revealed an estimated loss of $9 billion to inadequate breastfeeding in Indonesia.
“In Indonesia, misinformation may be a primary reason why women choose bottled feed with formula rather than breastfeeding their babies.”
In 2009, Indonesia enacted a health law calling for every baby to be breastfed or to be given breast milk from donors and milk banks exclusively during the first six months of life, unless there are medical reasons not to do so. Despite the law, Anung noted that implementation has continued to be a challenge for the government.
“Implementation of the law remains challenging, in large part because of continued massive marketing of alternative breastmilk substitutes for young infants,” Anung said.
The Global Breastfeeding Collective also prioritizes implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which may assist Indonesia in addressing this particular issue, prevent further misinformation and improve breastfeeding rates.
Anung emphasized that Indonesia will need to adopt a multi-pronged approach to increase breastfeeding rates, which includes hiring well-educated health professionals, increasing community support and enabling breastfeeding in workplaces through appropriate facilities.