Cabinet approves AMCH-1,000 days plus policy

Yangchen C Rinzin

The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s popular pledge to provide breastfeeding allowance, which is now called Accelerating Mother and Child Health (AMCH)–1,000 Day Plus, to improve the health of mother and child in the country, is likely to happen anytime soon.

This is because the Cabinet approved the AMCH programme, which was also once called a maternity allowance and later proposed as AMCH-1,000 Day Plus policy.

The policy was approved sometime last November.

Mothers or pregnant mothers will now be provided certain monetary incentives through the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme, according to the policy.

The AMCH policy is also envisioned to empower women financially by enabling them to operate their own personal saving bank account, economically active and healthy future generations, shared responsibility of the spouse, family and community.

However, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and given the economic situation, Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the CCT could not take off immediately.

“But the ministry is already working with the finance ministry on the cost and Royal Monetary Authority for financial literacy,” Sowai Lyonpo said. “But we’re sure that we’ll launch the programme later this year now that the policy is approved.”

The ministry will develop a CCT scheme to accelerate, improve and address the existing challenges in achieving the targets for mother and child health. The CCT will be provided to mothers/pregnant mothers, who will avail the requisite maternity and child health services.

Apart from that policy stated that CCT would be provided to all eligible pregnant women and mothers fulfilling conditions like 25 visits to the health facilities from conception until the child is two years old.

The recommended visits are eight ante-natal care, conditions like institutional delivery should be met, four post-natal care visits, immunisation, and exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The ministry will also develop eligibility criteria, exclusion criteria, enrolment into the programme, and conditions that beneficiaries need to fulfil to receive the CCT.

The CCT will be administered using the government’s fund transfer system and a conditional tranche system that will have details on disbursement schedules and the amount to be disbursed would be developed. “This will encourage mothers to fulfil all conditions,” the policy stated.

Sowai Lyonpo said that the approval of policy was a milestone for mother and children and this would narrow the gap between rural and urban mothers in terms of mother and child health (MCH) services.

“This is personally one of my topmost priority to implement, and I’ve worked hard with extreme passion to make sure this comes through,” Lyonpo said. “People must understand that investing money for a child is not an expenditure when children are considered as our future that will build a stronger nation.”

Lyonpo added that this will also ensure that there is equitable access to MCH services. “This means a child born in a rural area will be provided with the same services as that of a child born in an urban area. We want to ensure mothers have a bank account and financial literacy so that the money goes directly to her.”

The ministry has also drafted the action plan to carry forward the policy and ensure that the programme continues irrespective of which government comes in.

The need for a policy was recognised after several studies showed low utilisation of MCH services due to distance from the health facility, nature of occupation, financial burden, and inability to take time off from farm work and domestic responsibilities.

The primary objective of policy is to “Accelerate the achievement of mother and child health outcomes by increasing the uptake of MCH services through a holistic and comprehensive approach.”

The policy is also expected to contribute availability, accessibility and quality MCH services and knowledge and practices for MCH services.

The policy also demands to have a comprehensive AMCH training program for the health assistants, GDMOs, and dzongkhag health officials on the enrolment, eligibility, disbursement of CCT, and conditions for receiving CCT.

The health ministry will conduct a review periodically and decide on when the program has achieved the desired target.