Statement of Edmond McLoughney - UNICEF Representative in Romania - In anticipation of World Breastfeeding Week
Since 1991, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from 1-8 August all over the planet. UNICEF joins World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action – WABA and its associates, WHO and non-governmental partners to celebrate 2011 Breastfeeding Week, from 1-8 August 2011. This year’s event features the slogan “Talk to me! Breastfeeding – a 3D Experience”. The World Breastfeeding Week seeks to highlight the importance of communication and modern media to education and to investments in a healthy future.
A series of actions will take place during the Breastfeeding Week in Romania. The first event will be a debate hosted by the Chamber of Deputies focused on the support given to mothers in their decision to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is recognised as the gold standard for infant and young child feeding. Apart from the fact that it lowers the risks of developing many infections (meningitis, respiratory or digestive infections, ear infections or urinary infections), breastfeeding leads to well-balanced emotional development and brings economic benefits to the mother as well as to the health care system. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality from common childhood diseases (diarrhoea or pneumonia) and contributes to a speedy recovery from illness.
At global and European levels, breastfeeding rates have been growing whereas in Romania the exclusive breastfeeding rate has dropped to 12.6%. By comparison, the next lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate in Europe is 53% in Ireland. In the Nordic countries exclusive breastfeeding rates are around 89-94%.
At national level, an increased breastfeeding rate is a major objective and UNICEF Romania has become a breastfeeding promoter through support given to Ministry of Health programmes that promote breastfeeding and through its Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Currently, 41 maternities are active in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, 26 having already gained such a status. Nearly 40% of Romanian babies are born in such maternities which promote exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and severely limit the use infant formula. Important to note is the fact that in Europe there are only 300 Baby-Friendly Hospitals out of nearly 20,000 such facilities globally. The 26 maternity wards in Romania represent about 9% of the European Baby-Friendly Hospitals, which provides an excellent basis to increase the number of breastfed children.
Some of the main causes of infant and young child malnutrition are lack of breastfeeding and unnecessary use of breast-milk substitutes. An increasing number of studies warn about the dangers to using breast-milk substitutes and most international reports recommend breastfeeding promotion as the chief corrective measure for infant and child malnutrition.
One of the actions that UNICEF has taken in order to promote breastfeeding has been to support the passing of a Law on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes which regulates the way in which such products may be marketed in order to avoid replacing mother’s milk with substitutes. The law initiative of the two Chambers of the Romanian Parliament has been endorsed by UNICEF and by the Ministry of Health – the main law enforcer in this case.
The involvement of the Ministry of Health aims at meeting the obligations that Romania has to fulfil as a UN member state under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, more precisely under Article 24 advancing breastfeeding as a child’s right. Moreover, the UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which is also a programme of the Ministry of Health, aims at “stopping the free distribution of breast-milk substitutes”. In addition, the European Commission recommendations mention, as an obligation for the governments of all EU Member States, the fact that the free provision of formula milk to all, and to disadvantaged groups in particular, must stop and must be replaced with breastfeeding support.
Consequently, we believe that the recent measures of the Ministry of Health will support better infant and child nutrition in Romania. At the same time, we encourage the Ministry of Health and the Romanian Government to take the needed measures to support disadvantaged families so that they can feed their children the best possible food.