The Executive Director of UNICEF, Catherine Russell and Director-General of WHO,Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus have called on governments to allocate more resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings. In a joint statement to mark the World Breastfeeding Week, both reiterated the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life for newborn babies.
Under the theme; Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support, the UNICEF and WHO called on governments to allocate more resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families in crises and war-torn areas.
According to them;“During emergencies, including those in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children, even as it offers a powerful line of defence against disease, wasting and all forms of child malnutrition”.
In Nigeria, the Exclusive Breastfeeding rate is 29%, meaning that more than 70 percent of infants are denied the aforementioned benefits of breast milk in their formative years, as only 9 percent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that mothers lack the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies.
The effects are high stunting rates of 37 percent of children Under-5, of which 21 percent are severe, and wasting among children under 5 years of age (7perecent).
“Breastfeeding acts as a baby’s first vaccine, that protects them from common childhood illnesses.“Yet the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive,”it said.
“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 per cent by 2025″,the statement added.
Furthermore, it stated that;“Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is more important than ever, not just for protecting our planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants. That is why UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to; prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts. Also, to help equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed”.
Both chief executive therefore emphasised the need to protect caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the baby formula industry through adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings.
“Therefore, there is the urgent need to implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support to breastfeed their babies,”they added.