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UN tasks governments on better deal for breastfeeding

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
02 August 2022   |   2:42 am
United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) have urged governments to commit more resources to breastfeed, especially for most vulnerable families in emergency settings.

PHOTO: google.com

United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) have urged governments to commit more resources to breastfeed, especially for most vulnerable families in emergency settings.

Stressing the importance of breastfeeding to the early developmental stage of a child in a joint statement to mark the 2022 World Breastfeeding Week, held from August 1 to 7, UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell and WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, observed that the event, with the theme, Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and support, the two UN bodies noted that over 70 per cent of Nigerian kids are denied benefits of breast milk in their formative years, adding that only nine per cent of organisations have a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that mothers lack the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies.

They said: “In Nigeria, the exclusive breastfeeding rate is 29 per cent. The results are high stunting rates of 37 per cent of under-5 children, of which 21 per cent are severe. Breastfeeding acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting him/her from common childhood illnesses. Yet 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.”

The statement noted: “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 disease and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.”

The two chief executives stressed the need to protect caregivers and healthcare workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes in humanitarian settings.

They harped on family-friendly policies that provide mothers with time, space and support.

UNICEF and WHO called on governments, donors, civil society organisations and the private sector to step up efforts to “prioritise investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts.

“Equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support for mothers to successfully breastfeed.”

Recent studies have demonstrated that breastfeeding reduces mothers’ heart disease and stroke risk, as well as lowers blood pressure in early childhood.

Researchers also found that a longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding checks childhood asthma and prevents cognitive decline.

Yet another study confirmed that breast milk contains antibodies that fight illness.

A new survey in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) showed that a longer period of exclusive breastfeeding decreased odds of infection.

Also, a fresh study, led by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Health, discovered that women over the age of 50 years, who had breastfed their babies, performed better on cognitive tests compared to women who had not.

The findings, published in Evolution, Medicine and Public Health suggest that breastfeeding may have a positive impact on postmenopausal women’s cognitive performance and could have long-term benefits for the mother’s brain.

Cognitive health is critical for well-being in ageing adults. Yet, when cognition becomes impaired after the age of 50, it can be a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the leading form of dementia and cause of disability among the elderly.

Besides, another research from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), United States said the breast milk of lactating mothers vaccinated against COVID-19 contains a significant supply of antibodies that may help protect nursing infants from the illness.

The senior author of the study and an associate professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, Dr. Joseph Larkin, observed: “Our findings show that vaccination results in a significant increase in antibodies against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the virus that causes COVID-19 – in breast milk, suggesting that vaccinated mothers can pass on this immunity to their babies, something we are working to confirm in our ongoing research.”