Togo

In Togo, food insecurity makes exclusive breastfeeding more of a challenge

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Togo/2008/Soule
Véronique has helped boost breastfeeding practices Zowla, her village in Togo, a country where only 28 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants.

By Essi Fafa Soule

During World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August 2008, UNICEF and other advocacy groups are promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which experts believe could save 1.3 million infant lives every year.

ZOWLA, Togo, 1 August 2008 – In this village in the Maritime region of Togo, Véronique the tailor is well known. It is not for her dressmaking skills that she is respected, but for her work as head of the local breastfeeding support group.

Every week, Véronique spends a day visiting pregnant women and mothers throughout her community. Her aim is to leave them with the skills and knowledge to ensure proper breastfeeding practices, overriding traditional feeding practices that can lead to malnutrition and unhealthy lifestyles.

Progress in one village

Adjoko, 25, understands all too well the tough choices faced by Togolese mothers. After the birth of her child, pursuing exclusive maternal breastfeeding was a difficult decision.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Togo/2008/Soule
Six-month-old Paul has been exclusively breastfed; he lives in a region of Togo that is hard hit by malnutrition, and where mothers struggle to maintain exclusive breastfeeding while providing for their families.

She had seen many mothers who supplemented their infants’ diets with water or porridge within the first six months of the children’s lives. But with Veronique’s support, she was able to persevere with exclusive breastfeeding.

“Within the first few weeks, I could see results. My daughter, Emefa, was doing well, growing normally, and so far she has not had any health problems,” said Adjoko.

Today, nearly 7 out of 10 women in Zowla village are opting for exclusive maternal breastfeeding. It’s excellent progress in a country where just 28 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed and 108 out of 1,000 children die before their fifth birthday, often due to malnutrition

Meeting resistance

In other towns, support group members are not always welcome.

“If it’s not the elderly women accusing us, it is the husbands who push us out the door,” said a breastfeeding advisor from the nearby village of Anfoin.

“The problem is that people are having a hard time accepting that traditional practices can be bad for the health of babies,” she added. “And since it is the women who must provide many of the household resources, they tend to abandon exclusive breastfeeding before their children reach the age of six months in order to free themselves to carry out their chores.”

To overcome these obstacles, UNICEF and the Government of Togo will continue to support breastfeeding support groups and other activities at the community level.

A mother’s health, a baby’s life

Encouraging mothers to adopt optimal feeding practices is particularly complicated in Togo, admitted UNICEF Togo staff member M. Vincent Maku.

“In order for the mother to be able to fulfil her role, she requires a healthy and well balanced diet,” he said. “However, to secure a diet sufficient in both quantity and quality is no easy task in a country where a food crisis already poses a considerable challenge.”

But this challenge is also an opportunity to help pregnant and lactating mother take charge of their health, noted Mr. Maku – for the lives of their babies may literally hang in the balance.


 

 

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