As part of its long-standing vision to improve the prospects and enhance the futures of younger generations, Sharjah has made great strides in protecting the rights of its children and ensuring their well-being and safety.
Drawing on the emirate’s achievements in the welfare of children, the ‘Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate Campaign’ (SBFC) was launched in February 2011 through an Emiri decree by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, overseen by Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), President of SBFC, and sponsored by the Sharjah Islamic Bank.
Following the efforts and vision of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi to support and provide the highest level of care for children in the emirate, SBFC targeted children aged 0-2 years and highlighted the role of individuals and organisations in providing a nurturing and happy environment.
Themed “A Right Beginning for a Better Future,” the campaign focussed on the importance of breastfeeding and the impact of its declining rates on children's physical development and their future health.
Dr Hessa Al Ghazal, Executive Director of Sharjah Baby-Friendly Office, said: “In the years since the launch of SBFC, the campaign has opened many windows of opportunity in the home and workplace for the good of Sharjah’s mothers and children. The campaign’s efforts were represented through the various initiatives it conducted and the dozens of health facilities, institutions, and public places it targeted, all of which contributed to making SBFC a hub for innovation in advancing mothers’ and infants’ health in the emirate.”
SBFC adopted four initiatives that were implemented in Sharjah simultaneously for the first time in the world. The first, ‘Baby-Friendly Health Facilities,’ was modelled on the ‘Baby-Friendly Hospitals Initiative,’ launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
The three remaining initiatives, ‘Mother-Friendly Workplaces’, ‘Breastfeeding- Friendly Nurseries’, and ‘Mother-Baby- Friendly Public Places’, formed unique community-based concepts that aimed to encourage health facilities and members of the community to support breastfeeding and promote a friendly environment for mothers and babies.
The campaign worked to secure 90-days maternity leave for working mothers in the emirate’s public sector, and ensured two continuous hours during a working day for breastfeeding in the first year after giving birth. The campaign succeeded in increasing breastfeeding rates in Sharjah from 18% in 2012 to 43% by the end of 2015. The rates reached well over 50% in 2016, meeting and exceeding the WHO global nutrition target for the year 2025, which identifies an exclusive breastfeeding target in the first 6 months of at least 50%.
The campaign’s efforts culminated in the announcement of Sharjah as the world’s first Baby-Friendly City in December 2015.
Baby-Friendly Health Facilities
The Baby-Friendly Health Facilities initiative provide a supportive environment that encourages women to start and continue exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and to carry on breastfeeding along with home-made supplements for at least two years.
Those establishments providing pre-natal and child care should meet certain criteria to be recognised as baby-friendly health facilities. They should have a written policy about breastfeeding and introduce and update their employees and healthcare professionals on its contents on a regular basis. The health facilities also need to educate pregnant women and raise their awareness about the benefits of breast milk and the potential harm of artificial milk.
Under this initiative, SBFC carried out 250 visits to hospitals and health centres and held 200 meetings with health facilities, in addition to a number of workshops and field visits.
After proving their compliance with the terms of accreditation, eight healthcare centres and four hospitals in the Sharjah were accredited as ‘Baby-Friendly Health Facilities’, and 2,000 health professionals received 25,000 training hours on breastfeeding, accredited by the UAE Ministry of Health.
This initiative highlighted the important role played by workplaces in enabling working mothers to care for their children to ensure the right beginning for their health.
It set a series of terms and criteria for workplaces to be recognised as mother-friendly, primarily that they should not accept any kind of gifts or sponsorships, or distribute brochures or any advertising materials for companies that promote or sell alternatives for breastmilk. They should also provide a designated private room for working mothers to breastfeed their babies and allow them to take a nursing break during working hours.
SBFC carried out 315 visits and meetings, and 70 lectures and workshops with workplaces to support and encourage them to comply with the terms and criteria set for the mother-friendly workplaces initiative. As a result, 84 workplaces were recognised as ‘mother-friendly’ from 2012-2016.
This initiative was based on the fact that providing a supportive environment for breastfeeding at nurseries is one of the key fundamentals for enhancing breastfeeding in society. Nurseries were encouraged to provide a private room designated for breastfeeding and train their staff to educate mothers to breastfeed their children.
The initiative succeeded in accrediting 28 nurseries, organising 25 training courses and lectures, in addition to conducting 80 field visits.
Mother-Baby- Friendly Public Places
This initiative raised many questions about the importance of offering safe and healthy public places for both mothers and babies. SBFC has found that many mothers resort to artificial milk solutions as an alternative to breastfeeding when they are outside the home. The campaign sought to promote women’s awareness about the hazards of artificial milk and its risks, where formula-fed babies are often more prone to infections, food allergies and some chronic diseases.
Since 2011, the campaign has organised many events to promote its message and has sought to commit as many public places to becoming mother- and baby-friendly.
More than 15 workshops and lectures were held, 50 visits were conducted, and the campaign managed to secure 19 public places to join its rally.
A comprehensive cultural and social project SBFC has gone beyond its central role to become a comprehensive cultural and social project that cares for the future of next generations. It carried out more than 1,055 meetings and official visits, and succeeded in attracting 140 institutions to commit to creating a mother- and baby-friendly city. Through their efforts, SBFC expanded its experience beyond the local scope, achieving a regional and international presence through its participation in conferences and meetings with foreign delegations.
SBFC also contributed to Sharjah’s ranking among top cities in terms of breastfeeding that culminated in the emirate hosting the 3 rd Global Breastfeeding Summit in December 2014 and its yearly participation in marking World Breastfeeding Week in August.
The campaign boosted its efforts with educational materials, data and figures. It released educational pamphlets for mothers and made all its materials and activities available in both Arabic and English. SBFC also organised a series of educational seminars and lectures at healthcare and pre-natal clinics across the emirate to raise awareness around the benefits of breastfeeding.
It distributed 10,000 breastfeeding records and prepared 25 hours of educational videos for healthcare professionals. It also distributed 1,000 brochures, 1,200 educational posters and 10,000 CDs to raise awareness among expecting mothers.
Building on the inspiring and highly successful Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate Campaign, Sharjah has put forward its vision in the city’s recent nomination to the UN Child Friendly Cities Initiative, which targets a wider age group of children, with a larger mandate and a more comprehensive scope.
Following the impressive achievements of SBFC in supporting infants’ rights to breastfeeding, Sharjah is looking forward to becoming a model city in the Arab region – one that invests in younger generations to empower them to carry on with the emirate’s development agenda.