News article

Consequences of not breastfeeding on the national income

Posted:  Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Burden of absence of breastfeeding’ in Southeast Asia

Breastfeeding has several health and economic benefits. According to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), breastfeeding should be initiated within 1 hour of a child’s birth and continued exclusively for the first 6 months. Breastfeeding can be continued along with complementary feeding until 2 years of age. Exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months of age improves the health of the mother as well as the infant. In mothers, it reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer; in infants, it improves cognitive attributes and immunity.

The cost deficit resulting from the loss of cognitive benefits (caused due to the absence of breastfeeding), especially for the first to 6 months, is estimated to be 0.49% of the world’s gross national income. A study on estimating the costs of not breastfeeding across 7 countries in Southeast Asia was published in the journal Health Policy and Planning. Published information on the disease prevalence and breastfeeding patterns of 7 countries, as well as healthcare costs, were taken from representative institutions. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses were used to model the costs for not breastfeeding. A cost–benefit analysis was done comparing the benefits of improving breastfeeding with the cost of implementing comprehensive breastfeeding strategy in Vietnam.

Inadequate breastfeeding resulted in a considerable loss of life and capital. Annually, due to inadequate breastfeeding, approximately 10,718 children below 2 years of age died from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection, and about 33,164 women died due to breast cancer. Costs for treating children (below 2 years) with diarrhea or pneumonia due to inadequate breastfeeding were 293.5 million USD. On an average, 4.8 to 22.50 USD for diarrhea and 3.30 to 19.70 USD for pneumonia were spent per child.

Exclusive breastfeeding lowers the incidence of acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea; this could possibly save healthcare treatment cost. As per the cost-benefit analysis of breastfeeding in Vietnam, about 200 deaths were averted, and a 139% return on investment was obtained. The cost of a national-scale breastfeeding strategy in Vietnam was lower than the current estimates proposed by the World Breastfeeding Costing initiative (WBCi),. These results have opened up opportunities for speeding up progress towards achieving the global nutrition target for exclusive breastfeeding by 2025. Breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months could save lives of children, apart from saving billions in healthcare costs.

News source - Walters D, Horton S, Siregar AY, Pitriyan P, Hajeebhoy N, Mathisen R, Phan LT, Rudert C. The cost of not breastfeeding in Southeast Asia. Health policy and planning. 2016 Apr 23:czw044.