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 unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The AMCH programme, which was also once called a maternity allowance, was to be rolled out in August last year, but owing to budget and resources constraints, the programme was delayed.

The programme was then pushed for March this year. However, the programme is now going to become an AMCH policy.

The policy is currently with the Gross National Happiness Commission for a review. But before the policy could be approved, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that although the GNHC recommended a few changes to the AMCH policy after review, the Covid-19 has now delayed the implementation and policy rollout.

However, the minister said that the ministry is working simultaneously on the modalities of the policy like implementation, as it would make a difference in the life of a woman and a child.

“This is personally one of my topmost priority to implement, and I hope that when we roll out people will be as excited as I will be,” Lyonpo said. “However, we’re stuck because of the Covid-19 where our priority and budget has now shifted and reprioritised.”

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.

It will incentivise through conditional cash transfers (to reduce income constraints) and tailored information campaigns and messaging to improve health-seeking knowledge, among other mother and child care facilities.

The policy will target all the mothers who are not entitled to six months paid maternity leave, especially in rural, including those mothers in private and corporate sectors. In a case where the paid maternity leave is less than six months, then the total benefit amount will be pro-rated.

Agreeing that if this policy was rolled out on time,  Lyonpo said that it would have helped many expecting women who are directly or indirectly affected by the Covid-19 situation currently.

“This package would have ensured that every mother gets the same treatment and basic needs,” Lyonpo said. “I am sad about the collateral damage the Covid-19 has brought where this policy is today suffering.”

Lyonpo added that this was one of the significant policies that would enhance human capital development in the country and that the people should own this with pride.

“This is an investment we would be investing in mother and child who are our future generations,” Lyonpo said. “While the pandemic has disrupted the entire plan, we continue to work so that when everything is over, we’ll have the policy ready to roll out immediately.”

The total budget required for one year is Nu 414.99 Million. In one plan period, it will require Nu 2.074 Billion.

The banks should ensure that the women in rural areas can withdraw their payments within a stipulated timeframe and ATMs are functional at all times.

As per the policy, the mother and child health clinics will be the central delivery platform to implement the programme. Health workers will identify the target beneficiary.

Health ministry was monitoring the pharmacies in the market to ensure that commodities like contraceptive pills and condoms do not run out, the minister said.