Investments to raise breastfeeding rates drive economic growth in emerging economies

11th August 2017 Jack Aldane

Lack of investment in breastfeeding is stunting infants and several of the world’s largest emerging economies, a World Health Organization report states.

The report produced in collaboration with UNICEF and breastfeeding initiative the Global Breastfeeding Collective claims middle-income economies such as China, India, Mexico and Nigeria lose roughly US$119 billion a year due to low productivity and the loss of IQ resulting from poor nutrition starting at birth.

A scorecard used by the Global Breastfeeding Collective to measure breastfeeding rates shows that out of 194 countries, only 40 percent of children less than six months old are exclusively breastfed. The scorecard was released in August alongside evidence showing that investment of around US$4.70 per infant could increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding to 50 percent by 2025. Governments in lower and middle-income countries spend around US$250 million per year on the promotion of breastfeeding, while the private sector and other donors make up only US$85 million of annual contributions.

Laurence Grummer-Strawn, technical officer of nutrition for health and development at the World Health Organization, told Development Finance that the main source of funding for support of breastfeeding “needs to come from government sources”, though the World Bank has already begun leveraging financial markets to increase the rate of breastfeeding in developing countries.

The Global Financing Facility is a multi-stakeholder partnership created by the United Nations, the World Bank and other parters to raise funds from capital markets to close the financing gap in reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition.

In March 2017, the facility and the bank provided a US$109 million loan for the delivery of nutrition and health services to mothers and children in Guatemala. These services include interventions to raise breastfeeding of children less than six months old to around 50 percent.

Low rates of breastfeeding in developing countries remain an obstacle to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goals Two and Three, which aim to eliminate hunger and achieve health and wellbeing for all infants respectively.

The bank has financed similar projects in Tanzania to ensure infants are breast fed within an hour after a mother gives birth to prevent neonatal death.

Grummer-Strawn said the scorecard shows that the two leading impacts of low breastfeeding rates on economies are productivity and mortality. More investment in breastfeeding in each developing country he said could lead to “an educated, more economically active population that is ultimately more productive”.

He added that while governments could invest more in these initiatives, the emphasis has been wrongly placed on awareness-raising campaigns about the dangers of neglect, rather than issues such as the marketing of formula, which has been linked to obesity and lack of immunity to diseases, as well as proper support for economically active mothers.

“Oftentimes, the mentality is that [governments] support breastfeeding by putting out promotion campaigns, but they’re not thinking about the larger initiatives that are important, such as protection against the marketing of breast milk substitutes, provision of good counselling, changes to the healthcare systems, maternity leave and support in the workplace.”

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