CAIRO: More than 120 countries will mark World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7, in a bid to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.
The date commemorates the Innocenti Declaration made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF policymakers in August 1990 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman emphasized the contribution that breastfeeding can make to improving children’s nutrition, health and development at the inauguration of Breastfeeding Week in Nigeria.
“Under-nutrition is an underlying cause in one-third of all under five deaths, said Veneman, according to a press statement by UNICEF. “During the first six months of life, breast milk completely meets an infant’s nutritional requirements.
According to Lancet, a leading general medical journal, optimal breastfeeding in the first two years of life, particularly exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months can have the single largest impact on child survival of all preventive interventions, with the potential to prevent 12 to 15 percent of all under-five deaths in the developing world.
“The three main causes of infant deaths in Egypt are lung diseases, dehydration and diarrhea, said Dr Mohamed Nour, head of the general administration of childhood and motherhood at the Ministry of Health, at a panel discussion held at UNICEF Cairo office.
“Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and breastfeeding during the first two years is the best nutrition and prevents all those three, he explained.
In an effort to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding in Egypt, Nour said that the Ministry of Health has so far trained 3,000 doctors and nurses who now have all the necessary information to convince mothers of its importance.
“The Ministry of Health has spent LE 240 million to subsidize formula, but after the awareness campaigns, more than half the money has been saved, said Nour.
Although breastfeeding is widespread in Egypt, it is not practiced to an optimum level. Only a minority of babies are exclusively breastfed throughout their first six months.
The Demographic Health Survey (DHS) in 2008 found that 66.6 percent of babies aged zero to three months and only 24 percent of babies aged four to six months are exclusively breastfed. DHS also found that only 56 percent of babies started breastfeeding within one hour of birth, as 47 percent of infants received prelacteal foods, which are usually liquids that are given until the mother’s breast milk flows freely.
The theme of World Breastfeeding Week this year is “Breastfeeding: A vital emergency response. Are you ready?
UNICEF is using the week to promote better nutrition and highlight the role that breastfeeding can play in protecting infants from under-nutrition and illnesses that are common byproducts of natural disasters and other emergencies.
“In emergency situations, children and families often have to survive without adequate food, safe water and sanitation, said Veneman. “Breast milk offers an excellent source of nutrition for infants and, especially where clean water is lacking, helps keep young children safe from dangerous water-borne illnesses like diarrhea, she explained.