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Press release

Poor feeding for children under two leads to nearly one-fifth of child deaths

Breastfeeding a Priority to Save Lives and Nurture Childhood Potential

NEW YORK, 1 August 2005 – Better infant feeding practices in the first two years of life could prevent almost one-fifth of all child deaths in the developing world, UNICEF said today at the start of World Breastfeeding Week.

Currently, an estimated 63 per cent of children under six months in the developing world are not adequately breastfed.   The results can be devastating.  Infants who are not breastfed early and exclusively are left with limited defenses against killer diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea and lack essential nutrients to develop body and mind.

“Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal nourishment for babies up to six months old,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.  “In a developing country, a child that is not breastfed is about three times more likely to die in early infancy than a breastfed child, and exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk still further.”  

Breastfeeding provides vital nutrients, increasing the odds that children grow to be healthy and educated. It is a priceless gift, Veneman said, that almost every mother has the power to provide.  

The damage to children from lack of adequate breastfeeding and lack of good nutrition in the first two years of life can be permanent.  Immune-system weakness, stunted growth and compromised intelligence are just some of the possible long-term consequences.  In addition, around 5,500 children die every day as a result, one-fifth of all child deaths. And millions more are left to face a childhood of chronic illness and lost opportunities.

This toll of death and suffering is avoidable.  The nutrition a child needs in the first two years is already in the home: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding combined with a family focus on safe, appropriate complementary feeding for two years or longer.

But UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2005 shows that exclusive breastfeeding rates are still very low, just 37 per cent worldwide.  More help for mothers is critical – to provide accurate information about babies’ nutritional needs, skilled support from health systems and communities and legal protection for breastfeeding at work or elsewhere.

Breastfeeding and good nutrition for children are essential to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly the goals relating to child survival, such as reducing child mortality by 50 per cent by 2015 and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

“Poor families are on the frontline of the fight to reduce the world’s unacceptably high child mortality rates,” Veneman said.  “Helping them make simple improvements in child care could boost development efforts from child survival and health, to education and hunger reduction.”

And willingness to back such inexpensive yet powerful interventions is the only true test of global resolve to meet the Millennium Development Goals, she added.  

Basic support for mothers and children under two could dramatically improve children’s prospects in life.  These first two years must be the priority.

UNICEF works with partners, governments and communities to protect and promote breastfeeding by supporting national infant-feeding legislation, improving ante- and post-natal care and boosting resources for new mothers at the community-level. Protecting breastfeeding during emergencies is also a major UNICEF priority, when poor feeding practices can allow diseases to claim lives with frightening speed

For further information, please contact:

Oliver Phillips, UNICEF New York: +1 212 326 7583, ophillips@unicef.org

Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York: +1 212 326 7452, kdonovan@unicef.org

Footage is available to Broadcasters from Video on Demand at https://www.unicef.org/, or from the Newsmarket.
For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 157 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. 




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