Abia suffering chronic child malnutrition, state nutritionist cries out
* Laments decline in exclusive breastfeeding
* As UNICEF, WHO advocate restriction on marketing of breastmilk substitutes
By Steve Oko
The Director of Nutritional Services, Ministry of Health Abia State, Mrs. Mmerechi Ofoegbu, has raised an alarm that the state is suffering from chronic child malnutrition.
Ofoegbu disclosed this while speaking exclusively with Wawa News on this year’s World Exclusive Breastfeeding Week with the theme :
“Supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet.”
She said that poor nutritional indices in the state were over 22% , which according to her, signalled that the state had been under chronic child malnutrition.
The state’s Chief Nutritionist lamented a decline in the compliance level of nursing mothers to exclusive breastfeeding which she attributed to drop in sensitisation campaign.
According to her the slack in awareness campaign is due to lack of funds as the Ministry could no longer pay the community counsellors who visit nursing mothers in communities to educate them on the gains of exclusive breastfeeding.
Her words : “Before 2015, we were doing a lot of sensitisation in the state, and the compliance level was encouraging but now even the community counselors we trained have lost interest in the project because we can no longer pay them their stipends. This is because funding is no longer forthcoming from our development partners, and here in the state we don’t have the fund “.
She also decried the attitude of some nursing mothers especially at the rural communities who expect monetary incentives from the team as a condition to grant them audience.
Ofoegbu who noted that the gains of exclusive breastfeeding to both the baby and child were so enormous , urged nursing mothers to embrace the practice.
In an interview however, a nursing mother who simply identified herself as Mrs. Osinachi, said she did not believe in exclusive breastfeeding, arguing that it amounts to starving the child .
The mother of two who said her opinion on exclusive breastfeeding was based on the orientation given to her by her mother, however said she might give it a trial in her next birth.
She advocated some kind of government special incentives or stipends for nursing mothers to enable them feed well so as to have the stamina to observe exclusive breastfeeding especially during this covid -19 pandemic which had adversely impacted on the economy of many households.
But in sharp contrast another mother, Mrs. Onyi said she observed exclusive breastfeeding and confessed that the gains were overwhelming, although she noted that “it takes time” for exclusively breastfed babies to adapt to other food fomular later.
She noted that it was cost effective and that her babies looked healthier and hardly fell sick.
However , a nursing father, Mr. Chinedu Onyia said the fear of some nursing mothers opposed to exclusive breastfeeding could not be unconnected with having flat breast afterwards.
Onyia who said his wife practiced exclusive breastfeeding urged mothers to embrace the practice due to the inherent benefits.
Meanwhile UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, WHO, have advocated strict implementation of protocols on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, arguing that the availability of such substitutes poses threat to the campaign on exclusive breastfeeding.
According to both agencies, the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health.
UNICEF and WHO in a joint statement on this year’s World Exclusive Breastfeeding Day, decried the negative impact of breastmilk substitutes to the global efforts to promote exclusive breastfeeding.
UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, in the statement, urged governments to find innovative solutions to protect and promote women’s access to breastfeeding counselling, which he noted, “is a critical component of breastfeeding support”.
According to the statement, breastmilk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses.
UNICEF and WHO recommended that babies be fed only breastmilk for their first 6 months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until two years of age or beyond.
According to the statement, currently, only 29 percent of Nigerian children between the ages of 0 to 6 months are exclusively breastfed.
The statement said “breastmilk substitutes such as infant formula, other milk products, and beverages not only contribute negatively to the health and development of the child, but also to environmental degradation and climate change.”
“The production, packaging, distribution, and preparation methods of breastmilk substitutes have dire consequences on the environment. Metal cans used to package infant formula, if not recycled, are likely to end up in landfill sites.
“Plastic, aluminum and paper packaging often ends up in our streams and rivers with huge consequences to the overall health of the people. Breastmilk, on the other hand, is natural, and is the only food a baby needs in the first 6 months of life”.
UNICEF therefore, called on relevant agencies to strictly enforce adherence to the National Regulation on the Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions by putting to a stop to the unwholesome marketing of breastmilk substitutes.
It further called on civil society organizations not to seek or accept donations of breastmilk substitutes in emergency situations.
The statement harped on the need for availability and increased access to health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families during the current covid-19 pandemic.
“Efforts must be made to increase investment in maternal, infant, and child nutrition interventions at the community level support and to implement policies that support maternity leave for 6 months in the public sector, and an enabling environment for breastfeeding in the private sector”, it said.
UNICEF also advocated paid paternity leave for nursing fathers to ensure full participation of both parents in the early moments of the child.
“Through strengthened policy provisions and increased investment for breastfeeding, we can ensure that mothers in Nigeria are empowered to breastfeed their babies,” said Peter Hawkins.
UNICEF also advocated sustenance of exclusive breastfeeding despite the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, maintaining that “Breastfeeding is still the safest during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“While researchers continue to test breastmilk from mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, current evidence indicate that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, like most emergencies, leaves families with children in an extremely vulnerable position. Given the present lack of evidence that transmission of the virus could occur through breastmilk, we recommend that mothers should be encouraged to initiate and continue to breastfeed their babies while observing good hygiene practices.
” Babies should be fed only breastmilk for their first 6 months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until two years of age or beyond. “