Sultan Al Qasimi announces Sharjah world's first baby-friendly city

SHARJAH, 9th December 2015 (WAM) — H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, has announced that Sharjah is a baby- friendly emirate and the world’s first baby-friendly city after adopting four standards for being rating as baby-friendly. This is the first time such scheme has been widely utilised in the world.

He made the announcement at a ceremony to reveal the results of the Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate Campaign (SBFC) at the Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre.

The four initiatives are: Baby-Friendly Health Facility, Mother-Friendly Workplace, Breastfeeding-Friendly Nursery, and Mother-Baby Friendly Public Place.

The SBFC is based on the International Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991.

In Sharjah, beside the health facilities, the SBFC has been extended to include nurseries, public places and workplaces.

Present at the ceremony were Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Corporation and Sharjah Media Centre, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and President of the Campaign, Sheikh Salem Bin Abdulrahman Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Ruler’s Office, Sheikh Mohammed bin Humaid Al Qasimi, Director of the Department of Statistics and Community Development (DSCD), Sheikh Faisal Bin Saud Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Airport Authority, HE Mariam Bint Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of Social Affairs, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Health, Essam Ali, Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF – Gulf Area Office, as well as members of Sharjah’s Executive Council, chairmen and heads of Government authorities in Sharjah and The SBFC campaign officially announced that Sharjah is now home to 140 baby-friendly establishments and facilities, 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.

During the ceremony, a short video was screened to highlight the progress of the Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate Campaign since its launch in 2011. The film covered the initiatives and events organised by SBFC to fulfil its goal of transforming Sharjah into an entirely baby-friendly city and a role model for other countries in the region to create a healthy future for generations to come.

The film highlighted the results of the campaign with regard to breastfeeding rates in the emirate, which has increased from 18% before the campaign 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 had as its theme, “A True Beginning for a Better Future” with a vision 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. A total of 140 government and private bodies received baby-friendly accreditation during the ceremony.

H.H. Sheikh Sultan said, “We are happy today because we are on the right path to establishing a healthy and ambitious society that relies on intellect, strong belief. Out support for children will not stop. Rather it will continue to also include parents. We will work towards this goal.”

“There will be a special scheme in Sharjah to celebrate the birth of all babies with provide care for all newborns in Sharjah by providing care, not only for newborns, but also for their mothers and fathers,” Sheikh Sultan added.

In her opening speech, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi expressed her pleasure and pride as an Emirati from the emirate of Sharjah that gives priority to investment in human capital. She said, “I would like to start by expressing my pride and pleasure as I stand before you today, as an Emirati woman… And as a mother of three children, who, much like all mothers in the world, values the welfare and success of her children, also as an ambitious Arab woman, eager to contribute to the development and progress of my community. My happiness today stems from belonging to a country that values human development, and works for it. Together we succeed in reaching these goals and ambitions.”

Sheikha Bodour added, “Investing in human capital requires us to invest in building a healthy state, as well as in developing mental and cognitive abilities. It is common sense that the future of any nation is in the hands of its children, and no one is more qualified to take care of them than their mothers. So, the future lies with our children and our children are under the care of their mothers.”

Sheikha Bodour highlighted the wise directives from H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and the generous patronage and efforts of his wife, Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, for their efforts in empowering and motivating women to contribute at home and at the workplace.

Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi said, “The government has established guidelines and laws that allow women to achieve a balance, and women now get three-months maternity leave, in addition to their one-month annual leave. This change has encouraged many women to join the government sector and achieve great career success. 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.”

Sheikha Bodour added that reconciling women’s natural role and her career ambitions begins with enabling them, through providing a work environment that suits their natural 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 enlightened leadership that resulted in having nurseries at all government departments and bodies, public places and facilities and hospitals. This helps achieve the psychological and emotional stability of children and mothers and families in general. The campaign has achieved most of its objectives by working according to a comprehensive plan and through cooperation with the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as with government and private bodies,” she 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,” she added.

Sheikha Bodour said that the conclusion of the campaign does not mean halting the implementation of mother and baby-friendly criteria. She encouraged all representatives of the public and private sectors to take the initiative and apply the campaign’s standards to build on the success of this campaign, the first of its kind in the world.

Concluding, Sheikha Bodour thanked the campaign team and all those who contributed to its success. She also extended her thanks to Mariam Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of Social Affairs, and His Excellency Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais, Minister of Health, for their cooperation and continuous encouragement.

In her speech, HE Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi, said, “It gives me great pleasure to join you in celebrating this great achievement by the Emirate of Sharjah, which has become a baby-friendly emirate thanks to the grace of God and the efforts of our wise leadership. Sharjah today adds a new feather to its cap of landmark achievements by becoming the first baby-friendly city in the Middle East and enjoys this distinct status.”

She highlighted the pivotal role adopted by Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi in launching initiatives concerned with early childhood and children’s issues in general that builds a close-knit family and offers parents and children easy access to services. Such initiatives, she said, encourage working mothers to participate effectively in the job market.

The Minister of Health, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, thanked His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah and Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi as well as all those who contributed to the campaign’s success which led to the landmark results achieved by Sharjah. He noted that the campaign would not have achieved this success without Sheikha Bodour’s efforts and the effort of the campaign’s team.

Al Owais referred to the ground-breaking decision by His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah in 1976 when he ordered that healthcare be provided to school children and thanked him for this move taken 38 years ago.

Essam Ali, Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF – Gulf Area Office, thanked His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah and Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi for supporting cultural, social and health issues, with a focus on children’s health. He also extended his thanks to the Executive Committee and the team of the Sharjah Baby-Friendly Emirate Campaign for their outstanding effort and good organisation.

He said, “All studies and reports demonstrate the health benefits of breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation indicates that breastfeeding helps reduce child mortalities. Breast milk is very important in the first phase of a child’s life as it supplies all nutrients the baby needs. Mother’s milk contains very important minerals, vitamins and enzymes necessary to prevent the transmission of diseases and supplies all the nutrients the baby needs to build up his natural immune system during the early years of life,” he said.

In a recorded speech, Dr. Alaa Al Deen Alwan, Regional Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the Middle East, praised the role played by H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi to enhance health and development of people and expressed his appreciation to Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi for her commitment to childhood and motherhood issues.

Dr. Alwan reaffirmed the WHO’s full support of the initiative, expressing his hope that all countries in other regions follow in the footsteps of Sharjah to achieve better health in the future.

The campaign worked hard to encourage facilities and establishments to meet criteria set under four initiatives which are Baby-Friendly Health Facilities, Mother-Friendly Workplaces, Mother and Baby-Friendly Public Places, and Breastfeeding-Friendly Nurseries, and mother-friendly hospitals and establishments.

Once an organisation met the criteria for any of these initiatives, it was awarded the designation or accreditation of that initiative.