UNICEF signs partnership with South Asian Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology to improve maternal and newborn health and nutrition in South Asia

01 August 2022

Kathmandu, 1 August 2022 – At the start of World Breastfeeding Week 2022, UNICEF and the South Asian Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (SAFOG) signed a Memorandum of Understanding today to improve maternal and newborn health and nutrition in South Asia, in particular through protecting and promoting breastfeeding to save newborn lives.

The MOU recognizes newborn health as a critical agenda for South Asia, where 838,000 newborns die every year, and early breastfeeding as a key intervention to saving newborn lives, and ensuring healthy growth and optimal brain development. Currently, only 43% of children born in South Asia are breastfed within the first hour of birth.

"We could save one newborn life every minute in South Asia if breastfeeding is initiated within the first hour of birth," said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia. “Breastmilk is a child’s first vaccine, first food and offers babies a robust line of defense against infection and malnutrition.”

The partnership seeks to improve breastfeeding within the first hour of life, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding until two years. In South Asia, 39 % of babies are not exclusively breastfed in their first six months of life, and 22% do not receive the benefits of continued breastfeeding till two years of life, exposing them to risks such as diarrhea and life-threatening severe malnutrition.

“Nurses, midwives, obstetricians, gynaecologists, and paediatricians play a critical role in supporting breastfeeding in their contact with mothers at the most critical times,” said Dr. Rohana Haththotuwa, President of South Asian Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. “I urge health professionals in South Asia to step up lactation support to new mothers, particularly to adolescent mothers, those whose babies are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and mothers who have delivered through caesarian section.”

UNICEF and SAFOG noted that breastfeeding is not only about mother and child, but a shared responsibility of family, skilled service providers, workplaces and society. Family-friendly policies, including paid maternity leave, should be supported in both formal and informal sectors to provide all mothers with time and space to breastfeed.

Further, the partners raised concerns about the widespread marketing of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats. “Marketing of formula milk is increasing at a 15% annual growth rate a year in South Asia,” George Laryea-Adjei said. “Legal measures that prevent unethical and aggressive marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding need to be strongly enforced by governments.”

UNICEF and SAFOG marked the start of World Breastfeeding Week with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Secretariat, health professionals and partners in Kathmandu. At the event, Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Secretary General of SAARC, urged governments in South Asia to prioritize breastfeeding, maternal nutrition and the newborn health agenda.

“Breastfeeding provides food security for infants and reduces inequalities in the long term. We must strengthen the capacity of support systems in order to achieve the global nutrition targets of 2025,” he urged.

UNICEF is calling on governments to:

  1. Increase funding to raise and sustain high breastfeeding rates from birth through two years.
  2. Strengthen national legislations and fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
  3. Enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, and provide space and time for nursing breaks.
  4. Implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in maternity facilities, including providing breastmilk for sick and vulnerable newborns. 
  5. Improve access to skilled breastfeeding counselling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programmes in health facilities.
  6. Strengthen links between health facilities and communities, and encourage community networks that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding​.
  7. Strengthen monitoring systems that track the progress of policies, programmes, and funding towards achieving both national and global breastfeeding targets.


Media contacts

Pravaran Mahat
Regional Communication Specialist
Tel: +977 9802048256


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. 

UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) works with UNICEF Country Offices in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to help to save children’s lives, defend their rights, and help them fulfil their potential. For more information about UNICEF’s work for children in South Asia, visit www.unicef.org/rosa and follow UNICEF ROSA on Twitter and Facebook.

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The South Asian Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (SAFOG) is a regional association of the Executive Committee members of Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Societies in the eight South Asian Countries. SAFOG has been established as a forum for the Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of this region to enable them to discuss their specific problems and progress, as well as to share and learn from the experience of other countries in the region. It advocates and builds capacity with member countries on alignment with global clinical guidelines issued by FIGO whilst contributing to global recommendations from a South Asian perspective.

For more information about SAARC and its work, visit https://www.safog.org/



The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in 1985. The objectives of the Association are to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life by accelerating economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and providing all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realise their full potentials. It promotes and strengthens collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia and contributes to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another's problems.

For more information about SAARC and its work, visit https://www.saarc-sec.org/