The World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration, held every year from 1 to 7 August in more than 120 countries.
Although in Kenya, the launch was marked in the first week of July, ahead of the August 9 polls, World leaders are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes.
In a joint statement by UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) Monday, it was noted that breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children for most vulnerable families living in emergency settings including the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine and the Sahel.
“As global crisis continues to threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is more critical than ever,” affirmed the joint statement.
UNICEF and WHO are further calling on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts by equipping health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed.
Governments should protect 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,” the statement further noted.
Consequently, the two bodies have also asked governments to implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space and support they need to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding acts as the baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses. However, 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.
According to WHO, fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to diseases and deaths 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.
“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,” the statement said.
During the July launch in Kenya, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said that the government would be unveiling a national committee on infant and young child feeding that will be expected to provide the legal function of advising them on Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week is running under the theme, ‘Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support.
By Wangari Ndirangu