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Ethiopia celebrates World Breastfeeding Week for the first time

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2009/Getachew
Ethiopian Minister of Health Dr. Kebede Worku, (left) and UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia representative Ted Chaiban (second from left), join health extension workers at the launch of Breastfeeding Week.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 7 August 2009 – World Breastfeeding Week was celebrated in Ethiopia for the first time this year. The Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners joined more than 120 countries worldwide to mark the occasion earlier this week.

"Ethiopia is joining the global commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week in recognition of the critical role played by exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life for child survival and ending hunger and poverty," said Minister of Health Dr. Kebede Worku.

The global theme for this year is drawing attention to the need for active protection and support of breastfeeding before and during emergencies.

'The best start'

"Breastmilk is the safest, most natural and nutritious food that a mother can provide her baby," said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Ted Chaiban. "Exclusive breastfeeding for six months, initiated within the first hour after birth, is the best start to life that any child can receive.

"Children who are exclusively breastfed from birth to six months, and continuously up to two years with appropriate complimentary foods, grow up to be healthier, smarter and more productive than those who aren't," he continued.

While breastfeeding is almost universally practiced in Ethiopia, appropriate breastfeeding practices are not always followed. About one third of babies do not receive breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and only half are exclusively breastfed for 6 months.

Correct practices

Often, infants are not fed with colostrum, the highly nutritious milk a mother produces right after giving birth, as it is considered unclean.

Exclusive breastfeeding tops the table of life-saving interventions for newborns. Babies who do not exclusively breastfeed are six times more likely to die from diarrheoa or respiratory infections than babies who do. During the first 6 months, complementary liquids and food given to infants can expose them to infectious diseases, negatively impacting their growth and development. "The National Nutrition Strategy and its five year Program and the Infant Young Child Feeding strategy are part of the Government's commitment to improve infant young child feeding practices, the most outstanding being breastfeeding," said Dr. Kebede Worku.

Cultural misconceptions

At the launch of Breastfeeding Week Health extension workers from Oromia and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region highlighted cultural misconceptions and malpractices regarding breastfeeding such as giving goat milk and other traditional herbs before giving breastmilk to the baby.

"Through our advocacy work at the community level we are seeing changes in these traditional practices," said Yewibdar Ketema, health extension worker from Fentale District in Oromia. "Mothers are increasingly adopting exclusive breastfeeding from birth as their preferred method of infant feeding. We need to keep up with this work to reach everyone."

Forty thousand umbrellas conveying messages on breastfeeding are also being distributed to spread the word throughout rural Ethiopia.

Promoting exclusive breastfeeding

Renowned Ethiopian singer and mother of two, Zeritu Kebede, is contributing to public service announcements and billboards promoting exclusive breastfeeding.

Throughout Breastfeeding Week, the Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners are emphasizing the importance of early initiation of breastfeeding in one hour and exclusive breastfeeding for six months through different media advocacy events including radio and TV spots, billboards, flyers, SMS messages and a televised panel discussion.




7 August 2009: UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on Ethiopia’s first ever celebration of breastfeeding week.
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