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Zimbabwe, 2 December 2010: Country commemorates Global Day of Prayer

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2010/Mutseyekwa
The Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr. Portia Manangadzire, highlighting the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to mothers and babies.

HARARE, 2 December 2010 - Religious leaders, health officials and the United Nations family today devoted time to a special session of prayer for children and a call for Zimbabwe’s religious leaders to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life to ensure child survival and development.

More than 250 people from various religious groups took part in the commemorations to mark the World Day or Prayer and Action for Children. The theme, “Improving Maternal Health and Child Survival with a special focus on Exclusive Breastfeeding” was especially relevant for Zimbabwe, where only 5.8% of mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively.

“The Global Day of Prayer builds on the advocacy and momentum created by the 2010 Zimbabwe National Nutrition Survey which was launched early this year, which sadly revealed extremely low levels of exclusive breastfeeding and high levels of malnutrition,” said UNICEF Representative Dr. Peter Salama, whose speech was read on his behalf by Dr. Aboubacar Kampo, Chief of Young Child Survival and Development in UNICEF.

The Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr. Portia Manangadzire, highlighted the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, particularly for HIV positive mothers: “If a mother is HIV positive, the chances of passing the virus to the baby through mixed feeding is high, as the baby’s stomach lining is easily damaged through mixed feeding. Let us make exclusive breastfeeding the fashionable thing to do”.

Religious leaders who attended the prayer session in Harare pledged to disseminate messages on exclusive breastfeeding to their parishioners, highlighting the importance of breastfeeding for the growth and development of children.
“It is our God-given duty to give children our love and support, and this can be achieved through breastfeeding,” said Mrs. Agnes Chabikwa, Chairperson of the National Faith-Based Council of Zimbabwe.

Breastfeeding mothers who spoke at the prayer session stressed some of the social and economic challenges that normally force them to drop the practice of exclusive breastfeeding.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2010/Mutseyekwa
Mrs. Mutsvangwa, testifies of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding by highlighting that her children never get sick.

“As mothers, one of our prayers is for the understanding and support of those who live around us,” said Mrs. Mutsvangwa. “Without this circle of support, our efforts at breastfeeding exclusively for six months are in vain.”

This year’s World Day of Prayer and Action for Children observances came a day before the commemorations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an international treaty ratified by Zimbabwe in 1990 that recognizes the human rights of children.

For Zimbabwe, the CRC commemorations come at a time when the country has seen marked improvements in the revitalisation of the social sectors of the economy following the formation of the Inclusive Government early last year.

Increased allocation of resources by government and development partners in the health, water and sanitation and education sectors, particularly, has helped improve the quality of life and brought back hope to Zimbabwe’s children. However, more work still needs to be done to ensure child survival through promoting good infant feeding practices, among many other issues.

Key pledges to promote exclusive breastfeeding practices were made by different representatives of religious bodies. One in three children in Zimbabwe is stunted. The link between chronic malnutrition and local infant mixed feeding practices is undeniable.



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