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Breastfeeding key to child survival, says UNICEF Executive Director in Nigeria

UNICEF Executive DIrector with Vice President Jonathan
© UNICEF Nigeria/2009/Adeshida
Nigerian Vice President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman (centre) and UNICEF Representative in Nigeria Dr. Suomi Sakai during a visit to the presidential villa in Abuja, Nigeria.

ABUJA, Nigeria, 31 July 2009 – As Nigeria joins the rest of the international community to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is in Nigeria, highlighting the critical need for improvements in child health and nutrition.

On an official visit here, Veneman today noted that Nigeria has 2 per cent of the world's population but 12 per cent of all deaths of children under the age of five – a situation that must improve if the world is to make progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

As Veneman noted, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life can have the single largest impact on child survival of all preventive interventions.

"Undernutrition is an underlying cause in one-third of all under-five deaths," she said. "During the first six months of life, breast milk completely meets an infant's nutritional requirements. Yet only 13 per cent of children in Nigeria are exclusively breastfed from birth to six months of age."

Mothers with their children for immunisation
© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0471/Nesbitt
Women queue to have their infants immunised against measles at a clinic in the northern Nigerian state of Bauchi. Nigeria's first-ever Child Health Week aims to expand delivery of high-impact, low-cost child survival interventions, including immunisation.

Child Health Week launched

Also today, during a courtesy visit to Nigeria's Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Veneman urged national leaders to increase their investment in maternal and child survival. Any investment in children is an investment into the future of the country's development, she said.

In a related effort, Veneman joined with Nigeria's Health Minister, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, to launch the country's first-ever National Child Health Week, which begins tomorrow.

"Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 149 million people, including 75 million children," she said. "Sadly, more children die in Nigeria than any other country in Africa, largely from preventable diseases. Child Health Weeks have proven to be a highly effective strategy to save lives and prevent illness."

Uniting for Nigeria's children

Veneman called on a range of stakeholders – including government at all levels, the private sector, civil society organizations, the media and religious groups – to unite for Nigerian children.

They can do so, she suggested, by making practical contributions to children's well-being and to the realization of all their rights, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, the country's Child's Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.



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