Tanzania, 1 August 2014: Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week
1 August 2014, Dar es Salaam – World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from August 1-7 to highlight the vital role breastfeeding plays. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is one of the simplest, smartest and most cost-effective ways to support children to grow healthy and strong. This year’s theme is, ‘Breastfeeding: a winning goal for life!’ which underscores the critical link between breastfeeding and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This linkage is particularly clear in relation to MDG 4 (reducing child mortality), where globally the number of children under-five dying from preventable causes declined by a remarkable 47 per cent since 1990. In Tanzania, under-five mortality decreased from 81 per 1,000 live births in 2010 to 54 per 1,000 live births in 2012. The decline in child mortality can be attributed to (among other factors) improved breastfeeding practices in the country. The proportion of children under six months who benefit from exclusive breastfeeding increased from 41 per cent in 2005 to 50 per cent in 2010. However, the reality is that one out of twenty Tanzanian children still dies before their fifth birthday from preventable causes.
UNICEF Tanzania Deputy Representative, Paul Edwards said that this week presents an opportune moment to reflect on strategies to save child lives and ensure children are provided with the best start in life. “UNICEF is focusing on breastfeeding as the most effective and inexpensive way of saving a child’s life. But with only a half of all children under six months benefitting from exclusive breastfeeding in Tanzania, strong leadership in promoting and supporting breastfeeding is essential.”
Scientific evidence shows that children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children. Starting breastfeeding on the first day after birth can reduce the risk of new-born death by up to 45 per cent.
Neema Makuga (20) delivered her first child, Grace (six months) in a health facility in Iringa and was advised by the health worker to breastfeed her baby immediately after birth. “I have been exclusively breastfeeding my child from day one for six months now and I see the advantages of it, my child is growing well and healthy and she rarely falls sick,” she said.
Breastfeeding also supports a child’s ability to learn and helps prevent obesity and chronic diseases later in life. Breastfed children fall ill less often than non-breastfed children resulting in large health care savings. Apart from the benefits to the baby, mothers who breastfeed exclusively are less likely to become pregnant in the first six months following delivery, recover faster from giving birth, and return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner.
Despite these well documented benefits of breastfeeding, only 50 per cent of children aged less than six months in Tanzania are exclusively breastfed and 49 per cent of children are breastfed within the first hour of birth. This is partly due to general lack of a supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers.
The President of Tanzania made a strong commitment to improve maternal health and child nutrition, and reduce child deaths from preventable causes, particularly stunting - a promise which was renewed in May 2014 with the launch of the sharpened One Plan and scorecards to monitor progress. A High Level Steering Committee for Nutrition was created within the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate multi-sectorial interventions to reduce child malnutrition and promote optimal breastfeeding. The joint efforts of the Government and its partners, including UNICEF, have already produced important results in nutrition, but there is still more to be done, as the stunting (when a child is too short for their age) prevalence in the country is still high, affecting 42 per cent of children under-five. Stunting undermines both the physical and cognitive development of children and prevents them from growing as healthy, productive adults.
Paul Edwards concluded that UNICEF is committed to working with the Government to have supportive programmes that reach all communities and mothers so that the country is able to increase breastfeeding rates significantly. There is no other single health intervention that has such a high impact for babies and mothers as breastfeeding and which costs so little for governments. Breastfeeding is a baby’s ‘first immunization’ and the most effective and inexpensive life-saver ever in history.”
In Tanzania, World Breastfeeding Week 2014 will be celebrated in Iringa Region with various activities in health facilities and communities. The Government of Tanzania in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners is committed to intensify its efforts to promote optimal breastfeeding across the Mainland and Zanzibar. On August 7, a special event to raise awareness on the importance of breastfeeding will be held in Mufindi District Council and officiated by the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Hon. Dr. Seif Seleman Rashidi.
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