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Liberia: Breastfeeding Week launched on civil war battlegrounds

Image de l'UNICEF
© UNICEF Liberia/2005/ Slavin
As UNICEF launches World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia, the message for mothers is clear: exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a newborn’s life.

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By Patrick Slavin

ZORZOR, Liberia, 3 August 2005 –  “Yoh, yoh,” UNICEF’s Henrietta Howard cried out in her native Kpelle language, summoning the audience’s attention in the traditional way. On cue, more than 200 women, many holding their infants, replied, “Yoh, yoh!” – kicking off World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia.

For the next 90 minutes, the audience in this small rural community was treated to presentations from a diverse group of speakers, including ZorZor’s paramount chief, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia, musicians, students, government officials, dancers, mothers, and actors from community theatre groups.

But despite their diversity, the speakers were united in offering clear messages to mothers: Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of a newborn’s life and then continue to breastfeed while providing nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods for two years or longer.

“Exclusive breastfeeding is the number one preventive intervention for child survival, with the potential to save at least an additional 1.3 million lives per year,” said UNICEF Representative in Liberia Angela Kearney.

Image de l'UNICEF
© UNICEF Liberia/2005/ Slavin
Lofa county, where World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia was launched, was a frequent battlefield during Liberia’s 1989-2003 civil war.

“Continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding, which is the theme of this year's World Breastfeeding Week, [has] the potential to save at least 5,000 more children’s lives each and every day.

“UNICEF wants every child to have a healthy start and we must work together to build a healthy society,” Ms. Kearney said.

‘A breastfed child is a happy child’

Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Professor S. Benson Barh, also attended the launch, which took place on Monday, and praised its organizers for their choice of location. The launch event was held, not in the capital of Monrovia, but in a small rural community located in Lofa county, a region that suffered greatly during this West African nation’s 14-year civil war.  Lofa’s strategic location, bordering both Guinea and Sierra Leone, made it a frequent battlefield from 1989 to 2003.

“This is the first time World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia has been held outside of Monrovia. It’s so important to bring the message of exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complementary breastfeeding for two years or more to rural areas,” Dr. Barh said.

“During the war, we taught our children to kill each other – that was worst of all. Thank God the war is over and thank you, UNICEF, for supporting us to get the message to all families about the vital importance of breastfeeding. It is a priceless gift because the mother who starts to exclusively breastfeed today may be raising a son or daughter who could be the next president of Liberia.”

Standing near a sign that read, “A breastfed child is a happy child,” Esther Korvea, 30, held her two-year-old daughter, Korto, and said, “During the war, we had to run. For a while I lived in Guinea as a refugee. But I want Korto to be big, a successful woman, and I breastfeed her.”