As the World celebrates Breast-feeding Week…

Once more, the world celebrated another World Breastfeeding  Week.   Every   1SI  –  7in  August  is   marked   as Breastfeeding Week and Nigeria has always joined the world to mark the week through activities at federal, state, local government and community levels.

Twenty years ago, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) launched its first World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) campaign with theme ‘Baby – Friendly Hospital Initiative’ and it has been 10 years of WHO/ UNICEF’s Global Strategy for infant and young child feeding. A lot has happened in these times and as we celebrate, we also look back to understand what has happened and why, then plan what more can be done to support all women to be able to optimally feed and care for their infant and young children.

The year 2012 World Breastfeeding Week had the following objectives:

1.   To recall what has happened in the past 20 years on infant and young child feeding (IYCF).

2.   To celebrate successes and achievements nationally,  regionally and globally and also showcase national work at global level.

3.   To assess the status of implementation of the global strategy for infant and young child feeding.

4.  To call for action to bridge the remaining gaps in policy and programmes on breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding.

5.  To draw public attention on the state of policy and programmes on breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding.

The WHO and UNICEF jointly developed the global strategy for infant and young child feeding in 2002 whose aim is to improve – through optimal feeding – the nutritional status, growth and development, health and thus the very survival of infants and young children. The Global Strategy has identified a clear need for optimal infant feeding practices in reducing malnutrition and poverty. It is based on a human rights approach and calls for the development of comprehensive national policies on infant and young child feeding, it provides guidance on how to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond together with adequate, appropriate and indigenous complementary feeding.

The Global Strategy specific objectives are;

1.  To raise awareness of the main problems affecting and young child feeding, identify approaches to their solutions and provide a framework for their interventions.

2.   To increase the commitment of governments, international organizations and other concerned parties for optimal feeding practices for infants and young children.

3.  To create an environment that will enable mothers, families and other care givers in all circumstances to make – and implement- informed choices about optimal feeding practices for infants and young children.

Infant and young child feeding are a cornerstone of care for childhood development. Worldwide, about 30% of children under five years are stunted as a consequence of poor feeding and repeated infections. Even in resource poor settings, improved feeding practices can lead to improved intake of energy and nutrients leading to better nutritional status.

The Global Strategy builds upon past initiatives, in particular the “Innocenti Declaration” and Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and addresses the need of all children including those living in difficult circumstances such as infants of mothers living with HIV, low birth weight infants and infants in emergency situations.

The strategy calls for action in the following areas:

1.  All government should develop and implement a comprehensive policy on infant and young child feeding in the context of national policies for nutrition, child and reproductive health and poverty eradication.

2.  All mothers should have access to skilled support to initiate and sustain exclusive

Breastfeeding for six months and ensure the timely introduction of adequate and safe complementary foods with continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond.

3.   Health workers  should  be  empowered  to  provide  effective feeding counseling and their services be extended to the community by trained lay or peer counselors.

4.   Government should review progress in national implementation of the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes and consider new legislation or additional measures as needed to protect families from adverse commercial influences.

5.   Government   should   enact   imaginative   legislation    protecting   the breastfeeding

rights of working women and establishing means for its enforcement in accordance with international labour standards.

According to UNICEF’s state of the world’s children report 2011, 136.7 million babies are born worldwide and only 32.6% of them are breastfed exclusively in the first six months. In Nigeria, the multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS) 2011 reported infant and under five mortality rates of 105 and 172 respectively; a very low exclusive breastfeeding practice rate of 13.6% and appropriate complementary feeding rate of 31.1%. Imo State has a very low six months exclusive breastfeeding rate of 8.9%, appropriate complementary feeding rate of 28.1% and high infant and under-five mortality rates of 119/1,000 and 199/1,000 respectively (MICS 2011). Much work has to be done to improve infant and young child feeding in our state and country through continuous implementation of Global Strategy.

The Global Strategy is a guide for action; it identifies interventions with a proven positive impact. It emphasizes providing mothers and families the support they need to carry out their crucial roles and it explicitly defines the obligations and responsibilities in this regard of the government, international communities and other concerned parties. Every one concerned should move swiftly to give tangible effect to the global strategy’s aim and practical objectives to help make the world a truly fit environment where all children can thrive and achieve their full potential.

We thank our able governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha and his amiable wife Nneoma Nkechi Okorocha for their support as we attain full implementation of the Global Strategy for infant and young child feeding with subsequent reduction in infant and under five mortality rates in our state. We also thank the Hon. Commissioner for Health, Hon. Dr Obi Njoku of the House of Assembly, Local Government Chairmen and Councilors, religious leaders and all who have supported us. We also use this medium to solicit the assistance of Government in terms of provision of counterpart funding and transportation facilities for our programmes within and outside the state during and beyond the World Breastfeeding Week which is one of the well known strategies towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 4 Target — to reduce under-five child mortality by two thirds in 2015.

This year’s world Breastfeeding Week was celebrated in all the Local Government Areas with the Grand Finale on the 7th of August 2012 at Ikeduru Local Government Area Headquarters, Iho.

Lady Carol Unaeze is of the Nutrition/Dietetic, Division Ministry of Health, Owerri Imo State

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