A few years ago, authors Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio published “Hungry Planet,” a fascinating book with pictures of what families eat around the world. The picture from Mexico was revealing. If you take a brief look, it seems a quite healthy diet, varied and containing lots of fruits and vegetables. But if you look more closely, you will notice a dozen 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and about two dozen beer bottles at the back of the picture. In addition, in front of two children, there’s a table with sweet breads and other high-calorie snacks.
This week (August 1-7) is World Breastfeeding Week, an occasion to remind ourselves of the important role that optimal infant and young child feeding plays in the healthy growth and development of individuals, communities, and nations. For more than 30 years, the World Bank has championed the importance of breastfeeding. This includes investing in advocacy and communications to policymakers, strengthened health systems, and effective community-based outreach to provide the knowledge and support needed by women and their families.
To mark World Breastfeeding Week, World Bank nutrition experts have updated this helpful Q/A on the topic:
What are the health benefits of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is one of the most powerful tools available to a mother to ensure the health and survival of her child from the moment he/she is born. Optimal breastfeeding practices, which include initiating breastfeeding within an hour of birth, feeding only breast milk until 6 months, and continuing to breastfeed up to 24 months, are key elements in the fight against malnutrition. Breast milk provides all the nutrients a child needs for healthy development in the first six months of life. And the antibodies that are transferred from a mother to her child during breastfeeding help protect infants against common childhood illnesses that can lead to death, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
The Lancet’s 2008 series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition has estimated that the relative risk of death (all cause mortality) is 14 times higher for a child who is not breastfed versus one who is exclusively breastfed. When broken down by disease, the relative risk of death from diarrhea and pneumonia is 10.5 and 15 times higher, respectively, for children who are not breastfed versus those that are exclusively breastfed.
Health systems are under pressure in Asia. Epidemiological and demographic transitions are taking place much faster than in Europe and America, in the span of a single generation. With the transition comes the non-communicable disease (NCD) epidemic that requires more sophisticated and expensive interventions provided by hospitals, inpatient or outpatient. Rapid economic development in Asia has lifted millions out of poverty and raised peoples’ expectations for services. Between China, India, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, expansion of health insurance coverage during the last decade has reached an additional one billion people, making services more affordable and thus increasing demand. Advancing medical technology eagerly awaited by specialist doctors sitting on top of health professional hierarchies further expands possibilities for treatment. The middle class votes with their feet and takes their health problems to medical tourism meccas like those in Bangkok and Singapore, voiding their own countries of additional income to health care providers. Policymakers are scrambling to expand hospital capacity, boost the pay of health professionals, and encourage investment to meet the demand.
But governments do not wait. They are exploring hospital autonomy, decentralization, user fees and private sector participation. These policies often pose risks that need to be mitigated by policies and institutional arrangements. For example, health care providers sometimes order unnecessary procedures to earn additional revenue, thanks to the powerful incentive of the fee-for-service payment mechanism and information asymmetry between the patient and health care provider. This can mean financial ruin for both the patient and new, relatively weak health insurance agencies.
Despite these challenges, hospitals aren’t high on the international health development agenda, save a few initiatives to improve quality and provider payment reform.