At a glance: Niger

A campaign to promote exclusive breastfeeding makes strides in rural Niger

By Bob Coen

This year's World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August, highlights the role of health professionals. Here is one in a series of related stories.

GIDAN NAWA, Niger, 6 August 2010 – A quiet revolution is taking place in this dusty village in Niger. Everywhere you look – in the courtyards of family compounds, under the big tree at the village gathering place, even at the well as they gather water – women are breastfeeding their children.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on work being done to promote exclusive breastfeeding in Niger.

 

Where once babies were only given water, juices or herbal mixtures, more and more women are now choosing to exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months.

Healthier children

Akuma Yaduza, a mother of six, did not exclusively breastfeed her first five children. But now she is trying the practice for the first time.

“My neighbour did it with her child, so I decided to try it too,” Ms. Yaduza said while nursing her seven-month-old son, Aba. “I’ve noticed a big difference,” she added. “He has never been sick and I’ve never needed had to take him to the clinic. No diarrhoea, no vomiting. Absolutely nothing.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
More mothers in Niger are choosing to exclusively breastfeed their children for the first six months of their lives, a practice that dramatically improves the babies' chances of survival.

Ms.Yaduza and all the mothers in this village have been encouraged to practice exclusive breastfeeding as part of a campaign mounted by UNICEF and its partners. Throughout Niger, health workers and midwives in rural health posts, as well as community activists in villages, are helping to educate women on the benefits of breastmilk.

“It protects the child from many of the dangers that a baby and a young child face in a place like Niger, where there are big problems with diarrhoea, lack of clean water and with general poverty,” said UNICEF Chief of Health Mickey Chopra, adding that Niger has the world's 13th-highest level of mortality for young children. “Therefore,” noted Mr. Chopra, “exclusive breastfeeding is probably as important here as anywhere in the world – not least because [breastmilk] is an antibiotic itself, as well.”

Ongoing food emergency

Colostrum, the first milk secreted by a woman immediately after giving birth, contains large quantities of antibodies, which help a baby to fight illnesses. Preventing sickness and boosting children’s immune systems are urgent priorities in Niger, where an ongoing food emergency threatens nearly 400,000 children with severe acute malnutrition this year.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Akuma Yaduza with her seven-month-old son, Aba, who has been exclusively breastfed.

“It has been scientifically proven that exclusive breastfeeding can reduce infant mortality by up to 13 per cent,” said UNICEF Representative in Niger Dr. Guido Cornale. “But in order for that, and more, to happen, it’s important to accelerate the adoption of national strategies and norms regarding feeding and young children, including the law on marketing of breastmilk substitutes.”

Despite the strides made in many villages, less than 15 per cent of Nigerien babies under 6 months old are  exclusively breastfed. To boost this number, UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health have launched a new national breastfeeding campaign that coincides with annual World Breastfeeding Week.

The three-year campaign includes multimedia workshops, radio and television interviews and debates, films, theatre productions and even a specially written song. The goal is to ensure that every child in Niger is given this simple, essential foundation for a healthy future.


 

 

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