By Cecilia Ologunagba
Two senior UN officials are urging governments to make breastfeeding-friendly environments a priority, in line with commitments made earlier in 2021 to accelerate global progress on malnutrition.
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), and Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), issued the reminder in a joint statement on World Breastfeeding Week, which runs from Aug. 1 through Aug. 7.
They recalled that governments, donors, civil society and the private sector, united to launch the ‘Nutrition for Growth Year of Action’, describing it as an historic opportunity to transform the way the world can fulfil the global commitment to eliminate child malnutrition.
“Breastfeeding is central to realising this commitment,” they said.
“Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, offers a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.
“Breastfeeding also acts as babies’ first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses,” they added.
Although exclusive breastfeeding had increased by 50 per cent globally in the past four decades, alongside other related progress, the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted the fragility of those gains, the UN officials said.
In many countries, the pandemic had caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition.
“Several countries have reported that producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding,” they said.
Their statement highlighted how World Breastfeeding Week presented an opportunity to revisit the commitments made at the start of the year, by prioritising breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies.
Action includes ensuring full implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – established to protect mothers from aggressive marketing practices by the baby food industry.
Health workers should also have the resources and information necessary to support mothers to breastfeed.
Employers, on the other hand, must allow women the time and space to breastfeed their babies, including paid parental leave with longer maternity leave, safe places for breastfeeding in the workplace, access to affordable and quality childcare, universal child benefits and adequate wages.
Looking ahead to the UN Food Systems Summit in New York in September and the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo two months later, the UN officials called for smart investments and commitments to combat the global malnutrition crisis.
“Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding through stronger policies, programmes and actions, is part of this effort; now is not the time to lower our ambitions. Now is the time to aim high,” the UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted the two UN officials as saying.
“We are committed to making the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action a success by ensuring that every child’s right to nutritious, safe and affordable food and adequate nutrition is realised from the beginning of life, starting with breastfeeding.” (NAN) (www.nanews.ng)