This revamped breast feeding allowance would cost Nu 1.5 to Nu 1.3 bn during this government’s remaining tenure and Nu 1.8 bn over a 5-year period
In a major development, the cabinet on 6th January approved the Nu 1.8 bn ‘Accelerated Mother and Child Healthcare Allowance,’ for the next five years.
However, given that the government has only around three years and nine months left the cost during the current government’s tenure could be from Nu 1.5 bn to Nu 1.3 bn.
Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that the cabinet was presented with four different types of options and the option they went for was the Nu 1.8 bn one.
This is a significant increase from the initial estimates of Nu 1.19 bn that was the figure until last year. The program was expected to start from August 2019 but got delayed due to funding issues and a revamp.
Lyonchhen said that the new package is not just for 6 months of breast feeding but it goes up to the first 1,000 golden days of a child’s life.
He said the the new package has been totally revamped led by the Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo.
Lyonchhen said that one of the choices was of paying the mother based on the minimum national wage of Nu 125 to Nu 250 per day into six months.
He, however, said that this was asked to be redesigned as the Nu 125 a day would not be adequate in today’s world.
The PM indicated that the final package may be around Nu 250 to Nu 300 a day multiplied into six months.
However, this amount will not be paid just over the six months but it will be paid over 1,000 days or more than two years as the mother fulfills various regular health check ups, vaccines and other health visits during this period.
Lyonchhen said the money would be paid in terms of lump sum amounts where a bigger amount would be paid for the six months that the mother is breast feeding the child to support her and then after that money would be paid to cover the travelling cost of the mother to come to the health center.
Lyonchhen said the program will be one of the best primary health care packages in the world starting a couple of months before conception, throughout pregnancy, institutional delivery, post delivery up to the second birthday which is almost 30 months or a 1000 golden days.
The PM said that as of 6th January though the cost is around Nu 1.5 bn during the government’s tenure there are zero resources for it right now. He said the government will have to search for the money.
The PM said that the first 1,000 days is very critical for the child’s development not just physically but also in terms of micro nutrients, neurological development, health, hygiene and with everything included.
Lyonchhen said that the since the scope of the program was extended beyond six months the budgetary scope was also expanded.
He said the original program of six months breastfeeding allowance to rural mothers was very easy but under the new program the government wanted the responsibility to be fixed to the mother and the family and also a return on investment.
The mode of delivery will be lump sum cash transfers and those mothers not complying with the program will not get it.
A major change in the program is that it no longer only involves rural women but also women who work in the private sector. Lyonchhen said that all mothers who do not get the paid six-month maternity leave currently given to only government employees would be eligible for this program.
Lyonchhen said that the payment would be based on the eight ante-natal visits during pregnancy, some in institutional delivery in a medical center, some in post-natal care and vaccines with the last BCG vaccine at 12 months and after that the frequency can go down to one visit every two or three months till the second birthday.
Then there would be another six-month period beyond this.
Lyonchhen said that by the time the Ministry of Health is done with the child the child would be eligible for ECCD and here the government would give priority to kids who have completed this health routine of vaccines and checks.
Lyonchhen said that the MoH would be handing over the kids to the MoE. He stressed that the amount during the six months would be higher but again the money would not be so high that it makes the mother dependent on them with a withdrawal symptom when the money is not there.
DNT in its manifesto had said that it would introduce allowances for women in rural areas during initial months of childbirth. “Acknowledging the fact that rural women are also engaged in works related to domestic and farms, it would not make sense to deny allowances to those women who deliver babies,” said the manifesto.
The manifesto said that at the moment, when women take maternity leave in public sectors and DHI companies they are paid their monthly salaries.
DNT had said it will ensure the benefits are extended to all the women who give birth so that that it contributes to childcare as well as mother’s health.