Dechen Dolkar  

The Accelerate Mother and Child Health (AMCH) policy, which the Ministry of Health (MoH) was ready to implement in December 2021, is being kept on hold owing to a lack of budget.

The government approved the policy in September 2020.

The policy, also known as the breastfeeding allowance, is aimed to cater mother and child hospital (MCH) services to pregnant women and mothers. It is expected to increase the uptake of MCH services through more holistic and comprehensive approaches.

The programme has been pushed back several times owing to budget constraints. Initially, the government was supposed to launch it in August 2019, it was pushed to March 2020, and then to December 2021.

However, the AMCH-1000 Days Plus policy is pushed further back due to budget constraints in the recurrent budget.

During the meet-the-press session on Friday, Sowai Lyonpo (Health Minister) Dechen Wangmo said that it was an important programme and a top priority for the government. “We genuinely believe that investing in mothers and children will greatly benefit in building the human capital of the country.”

Lyonpo said that they didn’t want it to be a one-time programme and intervention. “We want this programme to benefit recipients for the long term.”

Lyonpo said that once it was endorsed as a policy, the budget will come from the recurrent budget.  “We’re having constraints on the recurrent budget due to the pandemic. It is delayed for a while.”

Lyonpo said that an MCH tracker is being developed, and the moment a woman gets pregnant, developments will be traced throughout.

Lyonpo said that in terms of the disbursement of the amount, the ministry will use the MCH tracking system to build in the cash disbursement.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said, “In five years, if we calculate 11,000 births per year, an amount of around Nu 1,800M is required”.

Lyonchhen said that for two years around Nu 250M is required.

Lyonchhen said that to implement the policy, it cannot be funded from external funds; it has to be covered through the domestic budget.

“The recurrent budget is not currently enough for on-going activities due to constraints. When the money is not enough to meet the ongoing mandatory activities, we cannot add other activities, no matter how important they may be. Domestic revenue is almost falling short of the mandatory recurrent budget,” Lyonchhen said.

The MoH would make the payments to all eligible mothers through a conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme upon the fulfilment of certain conditions.

The conditions include completing the recommended eight antenatal care (ANC) and four postnatal care (ANC) visits, institutional delivery of the child, exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and getting the child immunized.