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Breastfeeding and complementary feeding can save close to 2 million lives yearly

KUALA LUMPUR, 29 July 2005 – As part of World Breastfeeding Week which begins on 1 August, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reminds women and families of the vital importance of complementary feeding, which together with appropriate breastfeeding practices can save the lives of close to 2 million children around the world each year.

“UNICEF applauds Malaysia’s Ministry of Health for its programs around breastfeeding which encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months, and then continue to breastfeed while providing timely, nutritionally adequate, safe and responsively-fed complementary foods for two years or longer”, said Gaye Phillips, UNICEF Representative to Malaysia.

According to Phillips, breast milk is the ideal nourishment for infants, especially for the first six months of life as it contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones and antioxidants and other factors an infant needs for survival, growth and development. It protects babies from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections and stimulates their immune system and responses to other diseases.

Key milestones in Malaysia’s achievements around the promotion of breastfeeding are:

1970s : A National Breastfeeding Campaign was initiated in 1976 by the Ministry of Health to promote a culture of breastfeeding in both urban and rural areas. Women and their families were provided information and educated on the benefits and advantages of breastfeeding, prevention of diarrhoeal diseases from contaminated milk bottles and water, as well as cleanliness and hygiene.

1970s – 1980s : The Government formulates a Code of Ethics for Marketing and Distribution of Infant Formula Products in 1979. The code has undergone several revisions to improve cooperation among health professionals and the milk industry as well as to maintain voluntary compliance based on ethics for child health and survival.

1990s : The Government extends its promotion of breastfeeding programs into hospitals as a result of UNICEF and WHO introducing the Baby-Friendly Initiative. Nurses and doctors began actively advocating breastfeeding and discontinued the routine practice of giving bottle feeds to newborns. The first Ministry of Health hospital is declared a Baby-Friendly Hospital (BFH) in 1993. In 1997, all Ministry of Health hospitals were declared Baby-Friendly Hospitals. In March 1998, Malaysia was recognised by WHO as only the third country in the world, after Sweden and Oman, to have successfully accredited all its Government hospitals as Baby-Friendly. As of July 2005, 117 hospitals are accredited as Baby-Friendly Hospitals, including 2 army hospitals, 1 university hospital and 4 private hospitals.

2000s : Malaysia’s investments in child and maternal health care produces a dramatic 85 per cent reduction in infant mortality rates and under-five mortality rates over three decades.  UNICEF’s global report “Progress for Children” released in 2004 highlights Malaysia’s remarkable progress placing it as one of just 13 countries in the region that is on track to meet its Millennium Development Goal obligations of a two-thirds reduction in national child deaths by 2015.

“Malaysia’s comprehensive package of services for children and mothers, including its breastfeeding and Baby-Friendly hospital initiatives has resulted in dramatic declines of infant and under-five child mortality rates in the past three and a half decades - from 40.8 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 6.2 per 1,000 in 2002 for the former and from 57.1 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 8.6 per 1,000 in 2002 for the latter,” continued Phillips.



World Breastfeeding Week 2005
The World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) held from 1 to 7 August each year is the greatest outreach vehicle for the breastfeeding movement, being celebrated in over 120 countries.  The theme for this year’s celebrations "Breastfeeding and Family Foods: Loving and Healthy” aims to draw attention to the value of continuing to breastfeed children to two years or beyond; raise awareness of the risks and costs of introducing other foods and drinks to breastfed babies before six months, thereby strengthening support for six months exclusive breastfeeding; up-date information and ideas  about the kinds of other foods and drinks needed by older breastfed babies and young children after six months; and, share ideas for making complementary feeding easier, healthier and a time for learning  and love.
Activities in Malaysia – 2005
Activities in Malaysia supported by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Health Malaysia are:

  • Launch of the World Breastfeeding Week by DYMM Permaisuri Nur Zahirah, Permaisuri Terengganu on Monday, 1 August in Kuala Terengganu.
  • “Symposium on Complementary Feeding of Young Children” held in Kuala Terengganu from 2 to 3 August 2005. 

History of World Breastfeeding Week
In 1991, UNICEF organised a 3-day meeting involving 17 national and international organisations to strategise for a coordinated global effort to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. The two main workable actions that emerged at that meeting was the idea of a World Breastfeeding Day (which later evolved to become World Breastfeeding Week) and a Baby-Friendly Hospital campaign. The theme for the first World Breastfeeding Week campaign in 1992 was The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) Secretariat was started in Penang, Malaysia to facilitate the coordination of WABA activities globally.  Today WABA continues to operate from Penang, Malaysia and is in consultative status with UNICEF.  

United Nations Children’s Fund
For close to 60 years, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been helping governments, communities and families make the world a better place for children. Part of the United Nations system, UNICEF has an enviable mandate and mission, to advocate for children's rights and help meet their needs. In Malaysia, UNICEF has been working with the Government since 1954 by supporting programs in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, formal and non-formal education as well as services for deprived children in poor urban areas. With Malaysia’s progress and development, our focus today includes three new priorities – Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Child Protection; and, Protection from Childhood Accidents and Injuries.



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