Global community failing on breastfeeding effort

By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek- The global community has failed to meet recommended standards for breastfeeding, a new report by the by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows.

In 2012, the World Health Assembly called for at least a 50 percent rate of exclusive breastfeeding by 2025.

But the report by UNICEF and WHO, in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, reveals that no country in the world has achieved the set targets.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective envisions a world where all mothers have the financial, emotional, and public support they need to breastfeed.

The new revelations coincided with the World Breastfeeding Week held from 1-7 August. During the week, governments and decision-makers were called to forge new global partnerships and to invest in and support breastfeeding.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective that was launched on August 1, 2017, is a new initiative to increase global breastfeeding rates.

The WHO noted that the Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which evaluated 194 nations, found that only 40 percent of children younger than six months were breastfed exclusively and that only 23 countries had exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 percent.

Breastfeeding, the UN health agency said, is especially critical during the first six months of life, helping prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major causes of death in infants. Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, two leading causes of death among women.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement: “Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life. Breastmilk works like a baby’s first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive.”

An annual investment of only US$4.70 per newborn is required to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months to 50 per cent by 2025.

“Breastfeeding is one of the most effective — and cost effective — investment nations can make in the health of their youngest members and the future health of their economies and societies,” said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.

“By failing to invest in breastfeeding, we are failing mothers and their babies —and paying a double price: in lost lives and in lost opportunity.”

The countries that have achieved exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 percent are Bolivia, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Micronesia, Federated States of Nauru, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, São Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Timor-Leste, Uganda, Vanuatu, and Zambia.

The rest, including Namibia, fall below 40 percent. However, data on breastfeeding in the country remain sketchy as the last assessment was made 1994.

Based on the 1994 assessment, Baby Mother Friendly Initiative (BFHI), 100 percent of the hospitals in Namibia were certified as being Baby Friendly Hospitals and since then no assessment was done to determine the present status.

“This has influenced the current report to indicate Namibia as among countries who have not met the standards simply because a re-certification was not done since 1994,”  Matjila Matjira, UNICEF Namibia’s communication for development specialist said.

However, Matjila noted that the Namibian government, with assistance from UNICEF, is working to conduct a breastfeeding assessment and to implement the WHO’s 10 steps to successful breastfeeding.

The 10 steps include having a breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff; training all health care staff in skills necessary to implement the policy; and informing all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.

As part of this process, countries have been encouraged to help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth, show mothers how to breastfeed and maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants.

Countries are also encouraged to foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

Despite lack of data, Matjila pointed out that UNICEF has been assisting Namibia to promote breastfeeding through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

The initiative was launched globally in 1991 by UNICEF and the WHO to further the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding at the hospitals and maternity units globally.

BFHI is an accreditation process that requires a hospital to reach specific standards related to the 10 Steps for Successful Breastfeeding. Subsequently Namibia launched this initiative with the assessment done in 1994.

In order to improve countries, can improve their BFHI status, UNICEF urged countries to increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through two years as well as to enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective is calling on countries to:

• Increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through two years.

• Fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitute relevant World Health Assembly resolutions through strong legal measures that are enforced and independently monitored by organisations free from conflicts of interest.

• Enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, building on the International Labour Organisation’s maternity protection guidelines as a minimum requirement, including provisions for the informal sector.

• Implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in maternity facilities, including providing breastmilk for sick and vulnerable newborns.

• Improve access to skilled breastfeeding counselling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programmes in health facilities.

• Strengthen links between health facilities and communities, and encourage community networks that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.

•Strengthen monitoring systems that track the progress of policies, programmes, and funding towards achieving both national and global breastfeeding targets.

August 2017
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