Kenya will be among countries celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, even as global crisis continues to threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children.
For this World Breastfeeding Week, under the theme, Step up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support, UNICEF and WHO are calling 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.
During emergencies, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children. It offers a powerful line of defense against disease and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.
Breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses.
According to WHO in a statement released Monday, in as much as breastfeeding offers vital importance, 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.
“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% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first 6 months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50% by 2025,” read part of the statement by WHO.
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,” read part of the statement signed by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Others include equipping health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counseling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed.
Other key concerns include protecting caregivers and health-care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings.
World Breastfeeding Week’s history dates back to the early 1990s, when WHO and UNICEF introduced a memorandum to support and promote the act of breastfeeding.
It was first marketed in 1992 when a whole week was dedicated to promoting the campaign. As many as 70 countries initiated this campaign in the beginning.
The week is celebrated to highlight the importance of breastfeeding and the crucial role it plays in the life of newborn babies and new mothers.
While breastfeeding can prevent babies from infections and lower the risk of later health issues, it helps mothers’ uterus to contract, which then helps in stopping bleeding quickly.
It is also said that breastfeeding helps in lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in new mothers.
The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across 6 regions and from 149 offices to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.
By Alice Gworo