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WHO-UNICEF multi-country infant and young child feeding workshop in Damascus

Country action plans scaled up to improve infant and young child feeding practices

DAMASCUS, 10 May 2007– A four-day regional workshop initiated by WHO and UNICEF ended today with agreement to significantly scale-up efforts to improve infant and young child feeding practices in the Middle East and North Africa.The workshop was convened to address growing concern among public health experts over falling rates of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) and the relatively low proportion of Baby Friendly Hospitals (BFH) in the region. 

Experts recommended the expansion of community-based educational and awareness-building, improvements in the monitoring and assessment of EBF and complementary feeding (CF) rates, particularly in Sudan, Yemen Djibouti and Egypt, building the capacity of health workers in these relevant areas and mainstreaming feeding interventions into major national health and development initiatives. 

“Nutrition remains the weakest link in our region as far as child survival is concerned and there is a need to revitalize the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) as well as to harmonize breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices”, said Dr. Mahendra Seth, UNICEF Health Regional Advisor.

Overall in the region, exclusive breastfeeding practices (EBP) for infants below six months of age are declining with a current overall rate of 32 per cent. With the exceptions of Algeria, Oman, Sudan and Tunisia, most countries in the region have experienced falls in EBP rates or have failed to monitor breastfeeding rates.

“In impoverished areas, a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than a child who is not breastfed,” said UNICEF infant feeding officer Moazzem Hossain, “In an effort to give children the best possible start to life and to ensure the MDG Child Survival Goal is met, UNICEF and WHO are working with new mothers around the world to ensure that their babies are properly fed.”

While the average implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in the region is below the global average, countries like Iran, Oman and Tunisia have set a formidable pace, with about 90 per cent of their facilities being presently “Baby Friendly”. However, countries in the region face daunting challenges to the establishment of monitoring mechanisms that would ensure reliable data collection on Infant and Young child feeding.

“With an EBF rate of about 29 per cent in Syria, together with our partners our future focus will be on expanding the Baby friendly Hospital initiative, reinforcing national expertise on complementary feeding and reactivating the national code for Breast Milk Substitutes”, added Mohamed Anis Salem, UNICEF Syria Country Office Representative.

The workshop gathered representatives from Ministries of Health as well as WHO and UNICEF representatives from Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. The experts reviewed the status of infant feeding practices in the region and discussed more specifically key achievements and implementation challenges particularly in emergency situations.


UNICEF's strategy for infant and young child feeding is based upon the Innocenti Declaration for the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding, adopted in 1990, and subsequently endorsed by the World Health Assembly in the Global strategy for Infant and young Child Feeding (IYCF) May 2002 and UNICEF's Executive Board. The targets of the Declaration call for appointing a national breastfeeding coordinator and establishing a multi-sectoral national breastfeeding committee; ensuring that every facility providing maternity services fully practices all Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding set out in the joint WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI); implementing the International Code of Marketing of breast-Milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions in their entirety; and enacting legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women and establishing means for enforcement of maternity protection.


UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, 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.

For further information, please contact:

Mohamed Anis Salem, Representative, UNICEF Syria
E-mail: asalem@unicef.org  Mobile: 963 –988 –87887

Dr. Mahendra Seth, Health Regional Advisor, UNICEF MENA-RO
E-mail: mseth@unicef.org Mobile: 962-79-666-3399

Tamara Saeb, Communication Officer UNICEF Syria
E-mail: tsaeb@unicef.org Mobile: 963-933-549020

Wolfgang Friedl, Communication Officer UNICEF MENA-RO,
E-mail: wfriedl@unicef.org Mobile: 962 – 79 – 573-2745




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