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Namibia, 2 November 2015: Promoting exclusive breastfeeding as a standard practice for countering malnutrition

 
By Tapuwa Loreen Mutseyekwa

WINDHOEK, Namibia, 2 October 2015 – Encouraging mothers to give their babies nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life is one of the strategies which the Government of Namibia, together with partners such as UNICEF, is using to circumvent child malnutrition.

During the recently concluded seminar on Promoting Child Nutrition in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Region held in Windhoek, Namibia, parliamentarians in the region highlighted exclusive breastfeeding as one of the most effective strategies in place to reverse the staggering malnutrition figures in the country.

In a region where more than half the population survives on less than $1 a day, about one third of the population is malnourished. In Namibia, nearly one in four children under-five is stunted while nearly one in seven is underweight (13 per cent), and one in 15 (6 per cent) is wasted. As a result, their bodies are sadly weakened and their potential for growth is stifled as they become more vulnerable to disease.

The continued existence of chronic food insecurity, poor access to safe water and sanitation facilities, as well as poor feeding practices, such as early introduction of supplementary feeding, are some of the factors accounting for high malnutrition in the region.

“There is ample global evidence showing that a child who is not adequately breastfed is likely to face long term nutritional and developmental challenges. The unnecessary adverse consequences of malnutrition can easily be averted by promoting and supporting parents with the right information, to enable them to make informed decisions about how to feed their babies,” said UNICEF Representative, Ms. Micaela Marques de Sousa.

Secilia Mweshipelwe’s experience of exclusive breastfeeding with her fifth child was a vivid testimony shared during the seminar of how breast milk alone can change the story of malnutrition among children. During her regular check-up visits at Katutura Health Centre, on the outskirts of Windhoek, both the weight and height of her baby Celia had positive readings. Celia’s happy and cheerful demeanour indicated further indicated that the five month old baby was in good health and thriving on only breast milk and nothing else.

This simple and practical intervention to reduce malnutrition was embraced by the 75 SADC Parliamentarians attending the workshop. They committed to strengthening this and other nutrition based strategies to improve child survival and enhance the quality of life for children.

Parliamentarians at the seminar also agreed on the need to use their position in contributing to the reduction of malnutrition and stunting. This would be through the enactment of laws and regulations and also influencing the shape of national development plans and budgets.

Speaking at the seminar, Professor Peter Katjavivi and Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Namibia said, “As Parliaments, we have the power to enact legislation and are in a better position to ensure that nutrition is placed high on the agenda of our respective governments. All we need is strong leadership and more so political commitment and will.” In an outcome document at the seminar, delegates pledged to advance the adoption of relevant legislation to help shape and implement national nutrition plans, therefore ensuring that children continue to survive and develop to their full potential.

Delegates also acknowledged the importance of investment in nutrition to ensure better and higher financial returns on all development interventions and pledged to advocate for higher allocations to nutrition in the national budgets.

For Secilia, the tangible positive results of a happy and healthy exclusively breastfed baby is enough to also help shape the mind set and behaviour of her peers and in-laws, who have often tried to coerce her into supplementary feeding.

 

 
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