The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that over 70% of infants in Nigeria are denied the benefits of breast milk in their formative years.
UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell and WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus disclosed this in a joint statement issued on Monday, August, 1, 2022 to kickstart this year’s World Breastfeeding Week.
According to the statement, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life is more critical than ever as global crises threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children around the world.
To alleviate this, the Educate and Support, UNICEF and WHO therefore, called on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings.
The duo noted that, during emergencies, such as those in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children.
They further noted that breastfeeding also acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses as it offers a powerful line of defense against disease and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.
Using Nigeria as a case study, the duo however stated that the Exclusive Breastfeeding rate was 29%, meaning that over 70% of infants in the country were denied the aforementioned benefits of breast milk in their formative years.
They also stated that, only 9% of organisations in the country have a workplace breastfeeding policy, indicating that mothers lacked the enabling environment to optimally breastfeed their babies.
As a result the country has stunting rates of 37% of children under 5years, of which 21% are severe, and wasting among children under 5 years of age (7%), which present severe consequences for the child.
Furthermore, WHO and UNICEF stated that, “the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.
“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50% by 2025″.
The duo therefore, called on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support they need to breastfeed.