SHARJAH (Staff Report) – Sharjah has been pronounced a Baby- Friendly Emirate, making it the world’s first baby-friendly city after initiating the Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate Campaign (SBFC) in 2011. At a ceremony to reveal the results of the ground breaking initiative last Wednesday, His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, declared Sharjah the first Baby-Friendly city worldwide.
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There are now 140 baby-friendly establishments and facilities in Sharjah, raising the number of mother-friendly workplaces from zero before the campaign to 82 today. The campaign now offers 18 mother and baby-friendly public places, while baby-friendly nurseries have gone from zero before the campaign to 28 today and baby-friendly health facilities from two to 12 due to the campaign.
Due to the campaign breastfeeding rates in the emirate have increased from 18% before the campaign in 2011 to 40% today. Sharjah is close to achieving the global target of reaching 60% by 2021. The rate of formula-fed babies dropped from 67% before the campaign to 36% by the end of this year.
The campaign improves and preserves the well-being of mothers and babies by encouraging mothers to breastfeed and increase the number of months babies are breast fed for. The SBFC consists of four initiatives: Baby-Friendly Health Facility, Mother-Friendly Workplace, Breastfeeding-Friendly Nursery, and Mother-Baby Friendly Public Place. Once an organization met the criteria for any of these initiatives, it was awarded the designation or accreditation of that initiative. This is the first time such scheme has been widely utilized in the world.
Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and president of the campaign said, “The emirate of Sharjah has always been in the lead when bringing about positive change in social, cultural and humanitarian issues, particularly with regard to supporting the future of children, and the empowerment of women. I hope all governments in the region follow our footsteps in applying baby-friendly laws, and enabling women to achieve success and positive change for herself and her family.”
Sheikha Bodour added, “The government has established guidelines and laws that allow women to achieve a balance. I understand the challenges facing women who want to achieve a balance between their natural role as mothers and their professional ambitions. This balance cannot be achieved easily and without challenges. It requires sacrifices and tough decisions, because the work environment does not always allow women to play these two roles simultaneously. This puts women under pressure to make difficult choices.”
However, Sheikha Bodour added that reconciling women’s natural role and her work ambitions begins with enabling them, through providing a work environment that suits their role of raising children, in order to achieve the required balance between work and family responsibilities.
“Sharjah Baby-Friendly Campaign supports the efforts undertaken by the leadership that resulted in having nurseries at all government departments and bodies, public places and facilities and hospitals. The campaign has achieved most of its objectives by working according to a comprehensive plan and through cooperation with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as with government and private bodies,” she said.
The campaign followed the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, launched by the World Health Organisation WHO and UNICEF in 1991, and adopted by the UAE’s MOH (Central Department for Maternity and Childhood) in 1993. However, the SBFC extended the scope of the baby-friendly hospital initiative to include workplaces, nurseries, public places and health facilities, under the theme, “A True Beginning for a Better Future”.
In a recorded speech, Dr. Alaa Al Deen Alwan reaffirmed the WHO’s full support of the initiative, expressing hope that all countries in other regions follow in the footsteps of Sharjah to achieve better health in the future.
The ground breaking initiative worked hard to create a breastfeeding culture, where breastfeeding is valued, protected and considered as normal, not only within healthcare facilities but also in workplaces, daycare centers and nurseries, and public places.