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Best buys for Africa: Breastfeeding promotion

This study undertakes a cost-benefit analysis of breastfeeding promotion among children 0-6 months in six African countries: Botswana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, South Africa and Somalia, which have the lowest rates of exclusive breastfeeding on the continent. The focus is on the costs and benefits arising from reduced morbidity and mortality from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

The study shows that increasing exclusive breastfeeding prevalence from baseline to 95% can avert 227,000 DALYs due to diarrhoea and 376,000 DALYs due to pneumonia annually in the selected countries. Approximately US$1.9 billion can be gained every year in terms of health benefits and treatment and care seeking costs averted. The estimated benefit-cost ratio is 14.50 (for all six countries combined).

In this study we make the case for increasing breastfeeding prevalence, considering that conservative estimates of health benefits have been made. Other health benefits associated with increased breastfeeding were not considered, including lowered risks of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and childhood leukaemias. Further, we only consider costs and benefits in the first 6 months of birth, even though optimal breastfeeding can be beneficial for children up to 2 years of age and over their lifetime. 

The results of this study transcend health and have wider socio-economic implications. In sub-Saharan Africa where the opportunity cost of resource use is high, breastfeeding promotion can free up much needed resources that can be used in other investments to improve livelihoods. To make this analysis even more meaningful, the study must be expanded to all sub-Saharan African countries, which have the most deaths of children under the age of five years. 

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