Juba, South Sudan, 1 August 2019 – South Sudan’s exclusive breastfeeding rate increased from 45 per cent in 2010 to 74 per cent in 2018. The development of the Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition Guidelines and Strategy by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of South Sudan and the training of healthcare providers on appropriate infants and young children feeding practices, both of which were supported by UNICEF, have likely contributed to the observed increase.
Early initiation within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, are the best possible start a child can have for improved nutrition, growth and development. Breastfeeding is central to achieving optimum health and ensuring the survival of infants and young children. Breastfeeding plays a key role in the prevention of infant morbidity and mortality, particularly due to diarrheal diseases and pneumonia.
“As for the universal health coverage, South Sudan is committed to achieving 98 per cent exclusive breastfeeding in the next five years with support from health and nutrition partners,” said Dr Riek Gai Kok, the Minister of Health in South Sudan.
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from 1-7 August, to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of children and their mothers. South Sudan has been celebrating Breastfeeding Week since 2007. This year the global theme is, “Empower parents, enable breastfeeding,” with the aim of promoting policies that enable breastfeeding and assist mothers to nurture and bond with their children during the early stages of life, when it matters most.
“The Ministry of Health and UNICEF are working together with WHO and WFP and other partners in South Sudan to increase support and investments for improving infant and child feeding practices,” said Dr Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.
“There is no doubt that the absolute best nutrition for babies is found in breastmilk. We all have a responsibility to provide an environment for mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies up to the age of six months, when complementary foods should be introduced. Thereafter, breastmilk should be given alongside nutrient dense complementary foods until the age of two years and beyond.”
In line with the national strategy for improving maternal, infant and young child nutrition in South Sudan, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF are advocating for paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks, and the establishment of breastfeeding spaces in offices, to encourage exclusive breastfeeding, as well as the issuing of protocols and guidelines for all health facilities offering maternity services, to support breastfeeding.
The Government, UNICEF and their partners have been supporting mother-to-mother support groups in communities. In these groups, mothers come together to share their experiences and support each other and are given advice about the best practices regarding infant and young child feeding.
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For more information about UNICEF and its work in South Sudan visit: www.unicef.org/southsudan