Cambodia loses an estimated $137.7 million annually due to non-complete breastfeeding. The figure includes additional costs to the health system, increased mortality rates and damage to public health, according to a joint press release from the Ministry of Health, Helen Keller and other relevant organisations.

A January 29 statement, released ahead of their January 31 Consultative Workshop on Improving Infant and Young Child Feeding and Maternity Leave for Working Women in Cambodia, said that globally, the scaling up of breastfeeding to a near-universal level could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children younger than 5 years and 20,000 annual deaths from breast cancer.

It said the workshop is held to share important findings from research, to discuss the barriers that prevent working mothers from practicing breastfeeding, and to discuss the next steps and various solutions to support working mothers. It will also discuss whether maternity leave periods should be increased.

These preventable deaths, combined with cognitive losses and health system costs, lead to over US$340 billion in economic losses annually, added the statement.

“Based on this data, we need to work together to immediately scale up of the financing and implementation of policies, programmes, and interventions to meet the goal of increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life,” it said.

In Cambodia, almost 2,000 children’s lives could be saved each year if optimal breastfeeding was practiced. Inadequate breastfeeding results in approximately half a million avoidable cases of childhood diarrhea and pneumonia each year. In addition, some 5,000 children become obese annually.

“The Kingdom stands to lose US$137.7 million annually due to inadequate breastfeeding, combined health system, mortality, and cognitive losses,” the statement said.

The government has committed to increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding practices to 85 per cent by 2030.

In the past, Cambodia was very successful in promoting breastfeeding. However, according to the Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey

(CDHS), the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for children aged 0-5 months have decreased significantly – from 74 per cent in 2010 to 65 per cent in 2014 and 51 per cent in 2021-2022.

This drop has been partially attributed to increased use of breast-milk substitutes (BMS), as well as mothers stopping breastfeeding when they return to work following maternity leave.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi called on government institutions, the private sector and civil society organisations to establish facilities for mothers to breastfeed and express milk. 28 large locations have established such facilities.

She issued her call to action in late 2022, at the official inauguration of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ breastfeeding rooms.

“Breastfeeding contributes to reducing maternal, infant and child mortality and helps children to be healthy and intelligent. Improving the nutritional status of women and children is in line with Cambodia’s commitment to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for infants aged 0-6 months to 85 per cent by 2030,” she said.