UNICEF urges Imo govt. to scale up breastfeeding programmes

UNICEF urges Imo govt. to scale up breastfeeding programmes

By Victor Nwachukwu, Owerri.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have urged the Imo State Government to scale up breastfeeding programmes in the state.


This is contained in a statement by UNICEF’s Head of Enugu Field Office, Mr Ibrahim Conteh, in Owerri on Saturday to commemorate the World Breastfeeding Week.


The 2022 World Breastfeeding Week has “Step up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support” as its theme.


The week is officially celebrated from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7 annually since 1992, to create public awareness and support for breastfeeding.


Conteh said that the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Nigeria was 29 per cent, an indication that over 70 per cent of infants in the country were still denied the benefits of breast milk in their formative years.


“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.


“It offers a powerful line of defence against diseases and all forms of child malnutrition, including waste, and acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses,” he said.


The UNICEF official, however, noted that only nine per cent of organisations had a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that working mothers lacked the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies.


He called on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings.


“Protecting 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.


“The emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space 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.


“Fewer than half of all new-born babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death,” he said.


Conteh said that only 44 per cent of infants were exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly’s target of 50 per cent by 2025.


“The results are high stunting rates of 37 per cent of children under five, of which 21 per cent are severe, and wasting among children under five years of age (seven per cent). They continue to present severe consequences for the child,” he said.


He urged governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts to prioritise investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, particularly in fragile and food insecure contexts.


He also urged government to equip health and nutrition workers with facilities in the communities with the requisite skills to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers, to enable them to successfully breastfeed.


Besides, Conteh called for the protection of caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the baby formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings.


Speaking, the Imo State Commissioner for Health, Dr Prosper Ohayagha, said that the ministry, in collaboration with UNICEF, had decided to take the message to the rural populace.


He assured that with the cooperation of nursing mothers, breastfeeding would be enhanced to assist in providing a rich source of essential nutrients and anti-bodies that boost child immune system, brain development and save lives.

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