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Opinion: The Economic Cost Of Not Breastfeeding On Human Capital Development And Health Systems In India

Failing to breastfeed according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommendations amounts to real costs in human life, quality of life, and national economic outcomes

Opinion: The Economic Cost Of Not Breastfeeding On Human Capital Development And Health Systems In India

Breastfeeding is one of the best buys in global health to improve social, health, and economic development outcomes. Globally, improving breastfeeding practices could save more than 820,000 lives annually—87 percent of them infants under six months of age. In India, only 55 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed for six months. Failing to breastfeed according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommendations amounts to real costs in human life, quality of life, and national economic outcomes.

Also Read: Precautions To Take In Times Of COVID-19 Pandemic To Safeguard Breastfeeding Babies

What Are The Costs Of Not Breastfeeding?

Increased Vulnerability To Disease Results In More Maternal And Child Mortality

When children are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months, they are more susceptible to diarrhea and pneumonia—the two leading causes of childhood death worldwide. By supporting mothers to practice recommended breastfeeding practices, nearly 50 percent of under-two child deaths caused by diarrhea and pneumonia could be prevented. In India, this equates to nearly 100,000 preventable deaths of children under age 2 per year. Breastfeeding also helps protect the health of mothers. A mother’s risk of developing invasive breast cancer decreases by six percent for every year she breastfeeds. Increased breastfeeding rates in India could prevent more than 11,400 maternal deaths from cancers and type II diabetes each year.

Also Read: Mothers Should Continue To Breastfeed Even If They Are COVID-19 Positive, Experts Say It Is ‘Safe’

Health Care Costs To Treat Children And Mothers

Inadequate breastfeeding leads to a higher number of cases of childhood and maternal disease, which cause a higher burden on a health care system. The current cost to the health care system for the treatment of children with diarrhea and pneumonia and type II diabetes in mothers that visit a health facility due to inadequate breastfeeding is estimated to be more than US$106 million a year. This cost could rise dramatically as the health system costs increase, but it could also be reduced with increased breastfeeding practices.

Cognitive Losses Result In Lost Wages For Individuals

Inadequate breastfeeding impacts a child’s ability to learn and consequently hinders their future earning potential. India stands to lose more than US$7 billion a year due to future cognitive losses.

Also Read: Breastfeeding – Its Importance And Challenges, First Time Parents Neha Dhupia And Angad Bedi Share Their Experiences

Indirect Costs To Treat Diseases Result In Significant Costs For Families

When children become ill due to diarrhea and pneumonia caused by inadequate breastfeeding, parents often incur costs to take them to a health care facility to seek treatment. The economic losses that result include lost productivity and transportation costs. Studies from a range of countries indicate that families can incur additional lost work and transportation costs up to 25 percent of the health care treatment of diarrhea and pneumonia.

Formula Costs Are Significant And Reduce A Family’s Disposable Income

As India’s economy grows, it attracts greater marketing and investment from companies who sell breastmilk substitute products. The cost of formula feeding a child from 0-23 months is equivalent to 19.4% of a worker’s nominal wage—compared to breastmilk, which is free, safe, and hygienic for all babies. Given the context of poverty in India, families could certainly find more productive ways to spend their income.

Also Read: Opinion: Importance Of Maternal Nutrition And Its Inter-generational Impact

Policymakers Must Invest In National Policies And Programs To Support Breastfeeding

Investing in breastfeeding is an investment in not only improving the lives of children and mothers, but also an investment in India’s economic future. Greater political commitment is needed to support women to breastfeed, make breastfeeding the new norm, and realize a wealth of benefits for children, families, and societies alike. The Global Breastfeeding Collective calls upon policymakers to quickly adopt, strengthen, and implement the following actions:

· To raise awareness and increase breastfeeding rate in young children through 2 years, the investment must be increased.

· Fully implement the Infant Milk Substitute (IMS) Act 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.

Also Read: Opinion: Thinking Beyond The First 1000 Days Of Life For Maternal And Child Nutrition

· Improve access to skilled breastfeeding counseling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programs 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, programs, and funding towards achieving both national and global breastfeeding targets.

· Establish and promote more and more Human Milk banks and draw linkages with delivery points so that deprived neonates get mother milk. This effort can result in reduction of neonates morbidity and mortality.

The evidence is clear: investing in policies and programs that support mothers to breastfeed saves lives and provides a high return on investment.

Also Read: Opinion: Benefits Of Breastfeeding For Mother And Child And How We Can Promote And Support It

Key Findings In India

Each year, optimal breastfeeding practices have the potential to:

· Save nearly 100,000 children’s lives—an important contribution to reducing under-5 child mortality.

· Prevent more than 11,400 maternal deaths from cancers and type II diabetes.

· Save over US$106 million in health system treatment costs related to inadequate breastfeeding.

· Generate more than US$14 billion for the economy, or about 0.7 per cent of India’s GNI, by increasing children’s cognitive capacity and preventing premature mortality, and reducing the risk of maternal mortality.

· Reduce families’ out of pocket expenditures to treat diarrhea and pneumonia.

Also Read: An Image Of A Player Breastfeeding Publicly In Mizoram Highlights Issues Faced By Nursing Mothers

(Dr. Ved Prakash is the General Manager (Child-Health), National Health Mission (NHM) in Uttar Pradesh.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene


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