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Zambia launches campaign to promote exclusive breastfeeding

© UNICEF Zambia/2009/Nalungwe
Young twin brothers Joseph and John Mwenda are now healthy after being successfully treated for malnutrition at the UNICEF-supported Chipata Clinic in Zambia.

By Betty Chella Nalungwe

LUSAKA, Zambia, 19 February 2009 – At the launch of the Government of Zambia’s new advocacy campaign for infant and young child feeding, the country’s Minister of Health had a clear message for every mother: Exclusively breastfeed your newborn for the child’s first six months of life.

“Exclusive breastfeeding means giving the baby only breast milk for the first six months, and no other liquids or solids, not even water unless medically indicated,” said Minister of Health Kapembwa Simbao. “It is therefore crucial that breastfeeding our children becomes the norm in Zambia, because breast milk plays a very important role in securing the health of children and is essential for overall child survival.”

National campaign

To help improve the nutritional status of every Zambian child, the ministry’s new advocacy campaign is emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding, starting within the first hour of birth and continuing exclusively for the first six months. The national campaign aims to increase the exclusive breastfeeding rate substantially.

“This gathering today is a significant step in Zambia’s fight against malnutrition. The launch of the mass media campaign against malnutrition, with a focus on exclusive breastfeeding of children under six months of age, is commendable step by the government and partners to make a difference for these children and to save their lives,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative in Zambia Elspeth Erickson.

© UNICEF Zambia/2009/Nalungwe
Maggie Mwenda, mother of four, including twins Joseph and John, speaks at the launch of the breastfeeding promotion campaign. Behind her is her husband, Shaderick.

Essential for child survival

Part of the launch, which was held in the Chaisa compound in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, included testimonials from parents whose children have been successfully treated for malnutrition at the nearby UNICEF-supported Chipata Clinic.

“The protection, promotion and support of infant and young child feeding practices are essential for improving survival and supporting the growth, health and development of children. Without this, children become sick, children become malnourished and children die,” said Ms. Erickson.

Maggie Mwenda, 33, lives with her husband and four children in Chaisa. She explained that she had spent two months visiting ‘traditional’ doctors to get treatment for her babies, who were severely malnourished.

“When my twin children started getting ill, I totally ignored the signs. Between my husband and other family members, we convinced ourselves that it was witchcraft that was making our babies so sick,” said Ms. Mwenda. “The worst part was that they could not play but spent their time crying non-stop.”

Caring for malnourished children

After a volunteer community health worker advised Ms. Mwenda to take her babies to the Chipata Clinic, the twins were successfully treated through the clinic’s Community Therapeutic Care for Malnourished Children programme. Part of the UNICEF-supported programme's focus is to educate parents on healthy nutritional practices.

“I am happy for the education that I have received from the programme. I am proud to say that I am now equipped to look after my children nutritionally well, and also that I will be an advocate of proper feeding practices to other mothers,” said Ms. Mwenda.



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