New Delhi: Lack of investment in breastfeeding promotion results in an estimated 236,000 child deaths per year and $119 billion in economic losses in five of the world’s largest emerging economies—China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria—a joint report by UNICEF and WHO in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, a new initiative to increase global breastfeeding rates revealed.
The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which evaluated 194 nations, found that only 40% of children below six months are breastfed exclusively (given nothing but breast milk) and only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60%.
No country including India meets the recommended standards for breastfeeding.
The scorecard was released at the start of World Breastfeeding Week alongside a new analysis demonstrating that an annual investment of only $4.70 per newborn is enough to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50% by 2025.
It suggested that meeting this target could save the lives of 520,000 children under five and potentially generate $300 billion in economic gains over 10 years, as a result of reduced illness and health care costs and increased productivity.
“By failing to invest in breastfeeding, we are failing mothers and their babies—and paying a double price: in lost lives and in lost opportunity,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake. Globally, investment in breastfeeding is far too low.
Each year, governments in lower- and middle-income countries spend approximately $250 million on breastfeeding promotion; and donors provide only an additional $85 million, the report stated.
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.
“Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life. 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,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, WHO.