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Baby in a box

/ 11:01 PM September 18, 2013

The Sin Tax law is expected to provide some P36 billion in additional revenues to the government, 85 percent of which is earmarked for healthcare programs. That’s if—a certainly big IF—the pork barrel is truly scrapped or, even a little less optimistically, far more strict controls are imposed on the extra billions of pesos that would be available to give government much room to do some wondrous new things, like actually build roads, airports, and cold storage facilities, and rehabilitate seaports.

I’ve long argued that all pork barrel should go only to education and health, until all needs are met. These are two of the most urgent needs of society, and areas where costs can be known and monitored. Now maybe it can be.

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But what I’d like to argue for today, which would fall under the health regime, is BABY BOXES. What is a baby box? Let me quote (I don’t want to be guilty of plagiarism, and I couldn’t write it better anyway although I’ve made some minor edits) from an article that was sent to me (“Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes” by Helena Lee):

For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.

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It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package—a gift from the government—is available to all expectant mothers.

It contains body suits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress. With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby’s first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four (strong) cardboard walls.

The tradition dates back to 1938. To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.

Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be, but new legislation also stated that in order to get the maternity box they had to visit a doctor or municipal prenatal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy.

So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, and also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland’s nascent welfare state.

In the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high—65 out of 1,000 babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed. (By 2012 the figure was down to two. In the Philippines today it’s 24. That’s 22 babies that shouldn’t be dying.)

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The maternity box and prenatal care for all women in the 1940s were followed in the 1960s by a national health insurance system and a central hospital network.

The contents of the box, which doubles as a crib, are: mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt; snowsuit, hat, insulated mittens and booties; light hooded suit and knitted overalls; socks and mittens, knitted hat, balaclava; body suits, romper suits and leggings in unisex colors and patterns; hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, wash cloth; cloth nappy set and muslin squares; picture book and teething toy; bra pads, condoms (Catholic Church, please note).

Now obviously, we’d have to modify this to suit a tropical climate, which Finland certainly isn’t.

“At 75 years old, the box is now an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women,” the article added.

One Finnish woman related her story: “We couldn’t wait to get the lid off. There were all the clothes you would expect. And then the box itself. I had never considered putting my baby to sleep in a cardboard box, but if it’s good enough for the majority of Finns, then why not? Jasper slept in it—as you might expect—like a baby.”

How many, many babies sleep on little better than a dirt floor here, or even on a dirt floor?

“We now live in Helsinki and have just had our second child, Annika. She did get a free box from the Finnish state. This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it’s nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together,” the woman added.

Another Finnish woman said: “There was a recent report saying that Finnish mums are the happiest in the world, and the box was one thing that came to my mind. We are very well taken care of, even now when some public services have been cut down a little.”

A professor at the University of Helsinki considers the baby box as a symbol “of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.”

I think this is a great idea, don’t you? And I’m sure you’d get a number of corporations wanting to donate products and to introduce the products to mothers. These would have to be carefully screened, of course, so that only beneficial ones are included.

I mentioned the idea to Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Rep. Ted Haresco (who I happened to be with at a public hearing), and they liked the idea.

Baby box, why not? Let’s give babies a better start in life. Let’s give them a better chance of living.

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TAGS: baby box, Finland, infant mortality rates, maternity package, pork barrel, pork barrel scam, sin tax law
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