Breastfeeding Week Celebrations in Zimbabwe
By Tapuwa L. Mutseyekwa
04th August 2010:- Last week, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the breastfeeding week amid heightened calls for the rapid set up of Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative as one of the interventions to respond to the strikingly low rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the country, currently standing at 5.8%.
Guided by the global theme Breastfeeding: Just 10 steps – the baby friendly way, the celebrations held 150km from Harare in the North Eastern District of Mutoko, recognised the critical contribution of health workers in promoting ideal breastfeeding practices especially given that more than 60% of births are taking place within health institutions, while the elaborate village workers system maintains strong linkages in the communities.
Speaking to the hundreds of people who included health care givers, community leaders and villagers, school children, civil society and the Media, UNICEF Representative, Dr. Peter Salama highlighted that UNICEF was working with the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe to ensure the training and certification of hospitals in the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a strategy which urges hospital routines and procedures to fully support the best care of babies including the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding. So far in Zimbabwe, only 3 hospitals have been so certified.
“Exclusive breastfeeding for six months is vital for the survival, growth and development of children”, said Dr. Salama. “This is a message every health worker should repeat. Health workers should highlight that exclusively breastfeeding yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection form deadly diseases and fostering growth and development for children.”
This year’s Breastfeeding week follows the release of the Zimbabwe National Nutritional Survey which showed a chronic malnutrition crisis resulting in 1 in 3 children being stunted. The survey further revealed that while 70% of mothers breastfed their babies in Zimbabwe, only 5.8% of infants under the age of 6 months are exclusively breastfed exposing a growing problem of mixed feeding before six months.
The Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr. Henry Madzorera said both the health professionals and the parents play critical roles towards achieving optimal infant and young child nutrition especially through laying exclusive breastfeeding for six months as the foundation to a baby’s good health.
“Breastfeeding remains the best intervention to be supported if Zimbabwe is to attain its Millennium Development Goals number 1 and 4,” Minister Madzorera said. “It is against this background that the government is renewing efforts towards sustaining the Baby Friendly Hospitals Initiatives.”
World Health Organisation Representative Dr. Custodia Mandhlthe, whose speech was read on her behalf by Dr Trevor Kanyowa appealed to health workers to comply with the 10 steps laid out by WHO and UNICEF for every health facility providing care for pregnant women, new mothers and the newborn.
“We would also like to remind health workers of the WHO guidelines in the context of HIV positive mothers. Again we urge you to promote exclusive breastfeeding for six months and to continue breastfeeding for up to a year.”
The commemorations in Mutoko kick started a months’ rollout plan to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months among different communities in the country.