Spreading the word about infant and young child nutrition in Uganda
World Breastfeeding Week
By Jeremy Green
KIBIITO, Uganda, 2 August 2011 – In the lush district of Kibiito, western Uganda, the morning mists have quickly burned off the banana-covered hillsides by the time mothers have lined up at a local health centre for check-ups. Some women carry children on their backs, wrapped tightly in a colourful tied cloth known as a kitenge. One mother simply balances her baby on her hip, casually shifting him from side to side as the line moves forward.
“Breastfeeding is really an important activity, and we encourage our mothers to undertake it for the first six months,” Dr. Sekitoleko says, taking a quick break from his rounds and motioning to the crowd.
But convincing mothers across the country that breastfeeding can save their babies’ lives, he admits, is challenging work.
Impact on child survival
Uganda continues to struggle with a high mortality rate among children under the age of five, and diarrhoea and pneumonia are two of the top killers for this age group. Yet exclusive breastfeeding of infants and young children could save many lives – because breast milk is the most complete food available, containing all the nutrients, energy and antibodies that babies need to fight infections.
That’s the basic message of World Breastfeeding Week, observed 1-7 August. This year, the theme of the week is about using all means of communication to get out the message on breastfeeding, including non-traditional and newer mechanisms such as social networking sites and mobile phones.
Advocates are also emphasizing the role that each member of society can play in raising awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding, with younger and older people engaging in intergenerational dialogues.
In Kibiito, Dr. Sekitoleko admits that it takes more than one clinic, one antenatal session or even one health professional to convince new mothers to exclusively breastfeed. In his work, he’s seen how trusted sources – such as peer mothers, who are sometimes older than the women they counsel – can promote breastfeeding most effectively.
Peer mothers are women who have breastfed a child, have seen the benefits first-hand and are, therefore, in a position to pass on health education messages to expectant mothers.
“We have health workers, midwives, volunteers and peer mothers who give education talks to our mothers and encourage them to breastfeed, and teach them about the advantages of breast milk and breastfeeding,” says Dr. Sekitoleko.
‘Breastfed is best fed’
Breastfeeding messages are also passed along in Uganda through UNICEF-supported village health teams, or VHTs.
“I have learnt about breastfeeding from many points,” says Ms. Buriungu. “I have heard about it from the radio, heard about it from the TV, and also from the VHTs when they are moving around and teaching us how to breastfeed a baby.”
In Uganda and around the world, UNICEF joins its partners this week in working to ensure that young people in both developing nations and wealthier countries understand the importance of breastfeeding before they become parents.
“Breastfed is best fed, whether a baby is born in Uganda or England, China or Canada,” says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.