DRC: Faiths unite for "Breast is best"
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 23 November 2010 – Tens of thousands of Congolese Muslims gathering for prayers in Kinshasa’s Martyrs Stadium heard an unusual message this Eid Al Adha: their imam, Sheikh Abdala Mangala Mwana Luaba, urging them to exclusively breastfeed their babies during the six first months of life.
Christian mothers meeting at the Kimbanguist Centre heard the same message, encouraging them to begin breastfeeding within the first hour of their babies’ lives to help protect them against disease.
A gathering of kimbanguist women in Kinshasa
“Exclusive breastfeeding is like a vaccine for the child. We teach these lessons because what you learn is what you practice.”
The messages were part of a new partnership between UNICEF and the four main faith-based groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to promote the health, protection and rights of children.
The collaboration centers on encouraging five key family practices: exclusive breastfeeding, routine immunization, hand washing with soap and clean water, the use of insecticide-treated bed nets and the treatment of diarrhea at home with oral rehydration salts and zinc.
As part of the new initiative, religious leaders across the country used the recent celebrations marking the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children to advocate for positive behavior changes among their congregants, in particular exclusive breastfeeding for children under six months.
Partners for child survival
Pastor Brigitte Nkebi, who spoke to mothers at the Association of Kimbanguist Women, agreed that religious leaders have a crucial role to play in helping to promote children’s wellbeing in the DRC, where more than one in five children die before reaching the age of five – a rate that has not improved since 1990.
"Infant mortality rate is high. We must find the causes as well as the solutions. We educate mothers to breastfeed their children. It gives strength to the child, vitamins, and it allows him to fight against diseases such as pneumonia,” she said.
By Bibiane Ambongo
The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children brings people together to pray and take action for the well-being of children on Universal Children’s Day (November 20th) every year.
Universal Children’s Day, established by the United Nations in 1954, also commemorates the 1989 adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The World Day of Prayer and Action for Children was first celebrated in 2008. More