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Beyond the baby box

This week, Karoliina Koskenvuo explains how the Finnish baby box is one many factors behind the improvement of the population’s health in Finland.

The unique Finnish maternity package, which is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary, is an innovation that has recently spread far beyond Finnish borders. Finland is also well known for having one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Thus the significance of the maternity package on public health, including the reduction of infant mortality, has generated much international interest.

Whilst the maternity package has certainly been a part of overall public health efforts, there are also several other factors behind the improvement of the population’s health in Finland. For starters, the health benefits associated with receiving education are evident, thus creating more equal access to education are among these factors.

Scientific empirical data on the effects of the maternity package on public health is not available, but it is possible to explore this topic over the years.

In the 1930s, Finland was still an agrarian society with remarkable social class differences in health, education and welfare. The expansion of the healthcare system including maternity and child welfare clinics already in the 1920s, the hospital network (especially in the 1950s) and the social security system (the 1964 Sickness Insurance Act) are among the most important milestones of the welfare state.

The rise of living standards, including better hygiene and nutrition, a vaccination programme (e.g. 1941’s BCG vaccination of newborns) and pharmaceutical treatments (e.g. penicillin in 1945) have all played a crucial role in the improvement of the health of the population and in the substantial reduction of infant mortality.

Most importantly, integrating the maternity grant scheme into the overall healthcare system and requiring recipients to undergo a medical examination (1949’s Amendment of the Maternity Grants Act, meaning that the maternity grant, the baby box or cash, is available universally) have been essential to ensuring the health impact of the maternity package.

The baby box looks to have a great future ahead of it, too. Such has been the positive impact of the Finnish maternity package, these days 95 per cent of mothers choose the baby box instead of cash for their first baby!

Published on 27.04.2017