UNICEF Chief commemorates Breastfeeding Week by promoting better nutrition and child health in Nigeria
KEBBI STATE, NIGERIA, 31 July 2009 - UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman emphasized the contribution that breastfeeding can make to improving children’s nutrition, health and development, speaking in Nigeria today at the start of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August).
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. While Nigeria’s under-five mortality rate has dropped from 230 deaths per 1000 births in 1990 to 189 per 1000 in 2007, Nigeria still accounts for 12 per cent of global deaths of children aged under five.
“Undernutrition is an underlying cause in one-third of all under five deaths,” said Veneman. “During the first six months of life, breast milk completely meets an infant’s nutritional requirements. Yet only 13 per cent of children in Nigeria are exclusively breast fed from birth to six months of age.”
Providing encouragement and support to mothers to breastfeed their infants, alongside support for the health and well-being of mothers themselves, is an important key to reducing infant malnutrition.
According to the Lancet, optimal breastfeeding in the first two years of life, and 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 per cent of all under five deaths in the developing world.
The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2009 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 undernutrition 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.”
Breastfeeding also provides infants with protection from infectious and respiratory illnesses, boosts their immune systems and helps protect them from chronic conditions later in life.
“In the past 10 years, 14 countries, including some that have experienced disasters and crises, have shown more than 20 percent increase in rates of exclusive breastfeeding,” said Veneman. “When the value of breastfeeding is recognized and concerted efforts are made to promote and protect the practice, progress is possible even in difficult times.”
Currently only 38 per cent of infants worldwide benefit from exclusive breastfeeding. Action to support breastfeeding mothers and promote exclusive breastfeeding can help save children’s lives and promote healthy development.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to sensitize policy-makers, donors, implementing partners and the general public to the benefits of breastfeeding, to its particular importance in emergency situations, and to the need to protect and support mothers to breastfeed during emergencies.