May 19, 2013 | 06:57 PM (BD Time)
19 May, 2013 Sunday
Breastfeeding : Child's birth right
Prof. Dr. Md. Ruhul Amin :
In our country, the condition of child nutrition is facing a crisis. Almost half of the children aged five and younger suffer from poor nutrition. Thirty-six percent are underweight, and forty one percent are too short for their age. Too many children have weak immune systems, stunted growth and development, impaired physical, mental and brain developments, and more infectious diseases-largely because they are not nourished properly during the first two years of their life.
All this lead to a lifetime of reduced productivity. Poorly nourished children are more likely to drop out of school early and earn significantly less money as adults. But the impacts of poor nutrition go far beyond individuals and families. When multiplied across the nation, it takes a devastating toll on the health and economic development of our entire country. It's estimated that undernutrition can cost up to 3 percent of a country's gross domestic product.
But poor nutrition is also preventable. In fact, nearly every family in Bangladesh has all the food they need to feed a child for the first six months of their life. According to most major international health organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, breast milk is the unparalleled first food for babies during the first six months of life-no other food or drink is needed, not even water. In fact, research shows that if all mothers initiated breastfeeding within one hour of birth, it could prevent one in five newborn death. But balancing between work demands and child feeding prevents many mothers from being able to breastfeed exclusively. And no mother should have to choose between saving her job and feeding her child.
There is a solution. Maternity leave is an essential employment benefit that can save lives, improve health, and embolden our economic future by ensuring that all mothers in Bangladesh can give their children the best nutrition. Early last year, the government of Bangladesh demonstrated leadership and vision by implementing six months of paid maternity leave for public service personnel.This expansion of a key government policy is an example of leadership that will protect the health and well-being of thousands of government employees and their children. Soon after, in an address at the inaugural ceremony for World Breastfeeding Week 2011, the prime minister implored private employers to implement the very same policy.
One year later, we are observing World Breastfeeding Week again-yet mothers who work in the private sector still aren't guaranteed the same benefits as government workers. In fact, some business leaders now suggest that the policy for private sector workers should be rolled back from 16 weeks to 12 weeks. But to achieve the policy's full scale health, and economic impacts, it's vital that every employer across Bangladesh adopts thehighest possible standards to protect our entire workforce. We must protect this important policy.
Breastfeeding has widespread benefits for both mothers and their families: it helps children grow, prevents the high costs of formula feeding, and reduces the risk of a mother experiencing diabetes, breast cancer, and anemia. Maternity leave further benefits the employer . Research shows that it can reduce employee turnover and absenteeism due to child illness, which leads to a more stable and loyal workforce. And women are more likely to participate in the workforce when guaranteed employment security and a continued source of income following delivery, which results in more income tax and government revenues.
It should come as no surprise that the maternity leave expansion for government workers was supported by high-level officials within the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Establishment, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the Ministry of Women's and Children's Affairs. It had broad support because poor nutrition affects us all-and its impacts cut across issues of poverty, health, and ultimately, our nation's very economy.
The economic development of Bangladesh rests on a healthy, educated, and productive workforce-so it's imperative that our business sector play a key role in promoting the health of its workers. This World Breastfeeding Week, let's join together to ensure that working mothers can provide the best possible nutrition for their children and for the children of Bangladesh.
(Prof. Dr. Md. Ruhul Amin is a Professor of Paediatrics and Child Heath at the Bangladesh Institute of Child Health (BICH), Dhaka Shishu Hospital & President of Bangladesh Paediatric Association (BPA))
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