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At a glance: Liberia

Liberia’s mothers urged to exclusively breastfeed

UNICEF Image: Mother and child at World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia
© UNICEF Liberia/2005
Mother and child at the launch of World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia, where speakers highlighted the life-saving benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.

As part of the launch of ‘Progress for Children No.4: A Report Card on Nutrition’, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories focusing on successful initiatives that can help counter the many threats to children's nutritional status.

ZORZOR, Liberia, June 2006 – “Yorr, yorr,” UNICEF’s Henrietta Howard cried out in her native Kpelle language, issuing a traditional message to grab the audience’s attention. On cue, more than 200 women – many holding their infants – quieted down and replied, “Yorr, yorr!” and the launch of World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia began.

The event was held last summer in Zorzor, a rural village in Lofa county, a six-hour drive east of Monrovia. Its location, bordering both Guinea and Sierra Leone, made it a scorched-earth battlefield from 1989 to 2003.

For the next 90 minutes, speakers ranging from Zorzor’s paramount chief to UNICEF Liberia’s Representative, government officials, musicians, dancers, students, mothers and actors from community theatre groups lent their voices to the event. Their message was clear: Exclusively breastfeed 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.

‘A breastfed child is a happy child’

During her presentation, UNICEF Liberia Representative Angela Kearney explained that “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.”

Added Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. S. Benson Barh: “This is the first time World Breastfeeding Week in Liberia has been held outside of Monrovia, and 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. 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.”

Also at the event, standing near a sign that read, ‘A breastfed child is a happy child’, Esther Korvea, 30, held her 2-year-old daughter, Korto. “During the war, we had to run,” Esther said, “and for a while I lived in Guinea as a refugee. But I want Korto to be big, a successful woman. And [so] I breastfeed her.”

Preventing illness and mortality

Every year more than 10 million children under five die from mainly preventable causes, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, measles and malaria.  If every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth to six months, an estimated 3,500 children’s lives could be saved each day.

In the first five months of life, an infant who is not breastfed is seven times more likely to die from diarrhoea and five times more likely to die from pneumonia than an infant who is exclusively breastfed. Growth and development may stall in a child who is not breastfed, and the child has a greater risk of obesity, heart disease and gastrointestinal problems in later years.

Breastmilk contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones, immune factors and antioxidants that an infant needs to thrive during the first six months of life. Additionally, it protects babies from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, and stimulates their immune systems.

Yet globally only 36 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed for their first six months. Advocacy, increasing awareness and results-based programmes to support the immense life-saving benefits of breastfeeding can begin to reverse this trend.



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