Why a Tajik doctor enthuses about exclusive breastfeeding
By Mervyn Fletcher
The hospital was re-certified as meeting all the requirements of a baby-friendly hospital two years ago. It means it has held this status for eight, continuous, years.
The hospital is in dire need of investment. The lino on the floors is badly worn, torn in many places.
Dr Svetlana shows us a broken baby cot, then tells us they are desperately short of them and need at least another 100.
Nevertheless, she is proud of the hospital’s baby-friendly status and shows us around some of the hospital’s wards.
We meet nurses, all of whom are trained to promote and support exclusive breastfeeding. We’re shown the room where mothers are counselled in exclusive breastfeeding and we see posters on the walls of the wards explaining the benefits.
The promotion of infant milk formula is prohibited.
We meet several mothers and their new babies. Each is already planning for their return home when they will be continuing to practice exclusive breastfeeding.
Scientific studies have proved that breastfeeding introduced within the first hour of birth dramatically reduces the chances of infant deaths.
Exclusive breastfeeding for six months, meaning the baby is only given breast milk, and no other fluids or solids during that period, also continues to be one of the most effective ways of preventing infant deaths and childhood illnesses.
Breastfeeding is more nutritious than artificial milk and promotes physical and mental growth. The act itself forms an early bond between baby and mother.
Dr Svetlana volunteers the economic benefits are highly significant too.
“Our hospital has been able to cut from its budget baby-feeding bottles and teats, infant milk formula, and operating different wards for mothers and babies. We always used to separate mother and child immediately after birth.
“The families are benefiting. They’re not buying milk formula. We’ve noticed a drop in the number of infants we treat suffering from diarrhea.”
In addition, booklets are provided on exclusive breastfeeding in the country’s three languages, Tajik, Russian and Uzbek.
These are circulated to mothers and the families of new-born babies.
Last year UNICEF invested about $20,000 in the scheme.
It has paid dividends in a number of ways, not least in the way hospital staff are enthusiastically promoting the initiative.
In recent years they have marked Global Breastfeeding Week by inviting government ministers, religious leaders, and cultural figures to their hospital to discuss exclusive breast-feeding.
Each year they also invite three children who have been born prematurely and who, thanks to breastfeeding, are growing up fit and healthy.
UNICEF Tajikistan Representative, Yukie Mokuo, said: “The baby-friendly initiative introduced a new way of thinking about early childhood care. It’s an exciting thought that it’s the mothers who are now passing on this knowledge within their communities.”
Twenty one hospitals have been certified in Tajikistan as baby-friendly.
Tajikistan is possibly the only former Soviet republic with a growing population. Children constitute half its 6.6 million total.
More than 3,500 babies were born last year in Dushanbe’s ‘Maternity Hospital Number Three’.
It’s heartening to learn that more than a third of all the births in Tajikistan now take place in baby-friendly hospitals. Dr Svetlana is right to be proud of her hospital’s role in shaping a healthier new generation.