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Exclusive breastfeeding ensures a healthy life for Lesotho’s children

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011/Leonie Marinovich
Mothers2mothers is an programme that functions within Leostho’s existing heatlhcare system. It trains and employs mothers with HIV to educate and support their peers. HIV-positive Mother Malefu Kobisi (28) has followed M2M guidelines and exclusively breastfed her daughter Qenehelo Kobisi in the first six months.

By Suzanne Mary Beukes and Tsitsi Singizi

TEYATEYANENG, Lesotho, 22 August 2011 – Malefu Kobisi, 28, is a proud mother of a bouncing seven-month-old baby girl, Qenehelo. For the first six months of Qenehelo life, her mother religiously fed her child with only breast milk - a practice known as exclusive breast feeding.

As she sits in her small kitchen, with the cold winter light streaming through the window, Malefu explained that things were not always so good. She discovered she was HIV-positive when she was pregnant with Qenehelo. “I was so confused,” she said. “The first person I told was my husband, who instantly left me without a word.”

Supporting peers

It was at this time that she joined a Mothers2Mothers support group. This peer programme, supported by UNICEF, aims to empower HIV-positive pregnant mothers with guidance and assistance on how to eliminate new HIV infections in infants and children.

In addition, mothers are taught the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding and receive counselling as to the correct breastfeeding techniques. They are also taught how to combat the stigma of HIV and AIDS within families and communities.

“I learned a lot from the programme, on how to handle myself and my child before and after she was born,” Malefu explained. “I even met mothers who had the same problems like me and I discovered that I am not alone in a situation like this.”

Mother-to-child HIV transmission

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing breastfeeding along with complementary feeding in conjunction with antiretroviral therapy or prophylaxis is the best strategy to ensure HIV prevention among children/infants of HIV-positive mothers.  

Despite the fact that Lesotho has the third highest prevalence of HIV in the world, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), almost half of the mothers in Lesotho do not exclusively breastfeed. In addition, the country’s under-five mortality rate is currently estimated at 84 children out of every 1000 live births.

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011/Leonie Marinovich
Mentor Manandy Rapopo, herself a mother of a 4-year old daughter, visits mothers who are HIV-positive and assists them with issues they might have. Here she is assisting Malefu Kobisi (28) with the right breastfeeding technique.

Breastfeeding is directly linked to the reduction of the death toll of children under the age of five, yet only 36 per cent of infants less than six months of age in developing countries are exclusively breastfed.

Protective effect

Breastfeeding is the single most effective intervention for infant health, development and survival. Globally, health authorities have proven that breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and protects against respiratory infections, diarrhoea, allergies, skin disease, asthma and chronic health problems including obesity. Scientific studies have shown that up to 13 per cent of deaths among children under the age of five could be prevented by universal practice of exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The protective effect of breastfeeding goes beyond six months; combining the practice with appropriate complementary food can contribute to a further six per cent reduction in death among children under-five.

For Malefu Kobisi and Qenehelo the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding are certainly apparent. By following the steps to prevent HIV transmission to her baby, little Qenehelo can now look forward to an HIV-free life and Malefu can rest assured that her daughter has the best possible start to a happy and healthy future.



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