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Tanzania, 29 February 2016: Greater investment in breastfeeding could support economic development and save children’s lives

“Women face many barriers to breastfeeding; stronger national policies and programmes key to eliminating them”

© UNICEF Tanzania/2016
Mrs. Maniza Zaman, UNICEF Representative in Tanzania, at the breakfast meeting.

 
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, 29 February 2016 – A new series of papers published by The Lancet provides evidence that improving breastfeeding practices could save the lives of over 820,000 children a year globally and US$300 billion annually.

“Over the years there has been progress in reducing child deaths and undernutrition in Tanzania. Still 270 children under five die every day and nearly 40 per cent of them die within the first month of life. Of the children who survive, one in three children are stunted because of chronic undernutrition. These children are losing out on their life chances. Poor nutritional status affects a child’s learning ability and also his or her earning potential as an adult. But there are known interventions that can make a huge difference and promotion of breastfeeding is a critical one,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Tanzania, Mrs. Maniza Zaman, during a briefing with media in Dar es Salaam. “The Lancet Series provides compelling evidence on the wide-ranging benefits of breastfeeding. Investments in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding could save children’s lives in Tanzania and, in the long run, support economic growth.”

The Lancet papers show that there are many health benefits to breastfeeding. Increased breastfeeding can prevent nearly half of diarrhea episodes and a third of respiratory infections – the two leading causes of death among children under age five. Breastfed children typically need fewer hospital visits or prescriptions, have a lower risk of infections and diseases, are less likely to be overweight and less prone to diabetes later in life.

There are key health benefits for the mother too. Each year a mother breastfeeds, her risk of developing invasive breast cancer is reduced by 6 per cent. Current breastfeeding rates already prevent almost 20,000 deaths from breast cancer each year globally – this number can be higher with improved breastfeeding practices. Longer breastfeeding is also linked to a reduction in ovarian cancer.

Increasing breastfeeding rates has economic returns. Children who are breastfed do better in intelligence tests. Globally, the consequences and costs of lower cognitive ability associated with not breastfeeding amount to about US$300 billion annually. Low-and middle-income countries lose more than US$70 billion annually. High-income countries lose more than US$230 billion annually.

In Tanzania, 42 percent of children are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months and only half the newborns are put to the breast within one hour of birth when newborns can most benefit from the immune factors in breast milk. While continued breastfeeding till 24 months and beyond, together with feeding the child other appropriate foods, provides the optimal nutrition for the growing child, about half of the children between 20-23 months are no longer breastfed. This means that many children are growing up poorly nourished.

However there are regions in the country which show very encouraging trends. For example, 75 per cent of children are breastfed within the first hour after birth in Kilimanjaro, Tanga and Iringa regions. More than half of children aged between 0-5 months are exclusively breastfed in Iringa, Kigoma, Morogoro, Singida, Katavi and Geita regions, with the highest prevalence in Kagera (70 per cent).

To make a nationwide effort to improve breast-feeding practices, common obstacles faced by women worldwide need to also be tackled in Tanzania:

  • Gaps in knowledge among healthcare providers that leave women without access to accurate information or support;
  • Lack of strong support systems among family and community, as well as cultural traditions unsupportive of breastfeeding; and
  • Limited or nonexistent maternity leave. Short maternity leave may increase the odds of not breastfeeding or stopping early.

An additional factor is the improper marketing of breastmilk substitutes (including infant formula) by their manufacturers and distributors which undermines breastfeeding as the best practice in early life. In Tanzania, the Code of Marketing on Breastmilk Substitutes is in place – strengthened monitoring and enforcement of the Code is crucial. Working women need to be supported through adequate maternity protection legislation. For women in the informal sector, family and community support systems, better working conditions and labour-saving interventions are needed to free up women’s time and energy for optimal breast-feeding practices.

“Breastfeeding is the most natural, cost effective, environmentally sound and readily available way we know to provide all children, rich or poor, with the healthiest start in life,” concluded Mrs. Zaman “The science is clear – lets come together to support many more women and families in Tanzania provide this best start to life for their children”.

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About UNICEF
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org/tanzania

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For more information, or for interviews, please contact:

Sandra Bisin, UNICEF Tanzania, Mobile: +255 787 600079, sbisin@unicef.org

 

 

 
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