Health

UN agencies say Caribbean fails to fully meet recommended standards for breastfeeding

Saturday, August 05, 2017

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GENEVA, Switzerland (CMC) — Two United Nations agencies say, among global countries, the Caribbean has failed to fully meet the recommended standards for breastfeeding.

According to a new report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective — a new initiative to increase global breastfeeding rates — only 40 per cent of children younger than six months are breastfed exclusively — given nothing but breastmilk — and only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 per cent.

The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which evaluated 194 nations, finds that breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and their mothers.

“It is especially critical during the first six months of life, helping prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major causes of death in infants,” the report says. “Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, two leading causes of death among women.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director general, said “breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life.

“Breastmilk works like a baby's first vaccine, protecting infants from potentially deadly diseases and giving them all the nourishment they need to survive and thrive,” he said.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said the scorecard was released at the start of World Breastfeeding Week, alongside a new analysis demonstrating that an annual investment of only US$4.70 per newborn is required to increase the global rate — of exclusive breastfeeding among children under six months — to 50 per cent by 2025.

Nurturing the Health and Wealth of Nations: The Investment Case for Breastfeeding suggests that meeting this target could save the lives of 520,000 children under the age of five and potentially generate US$300 billion in economic gains over 10 years, as a result of reduced illness and health care costs and increased productivity, according to PAHO.

“Breastfeeding is one of the most effective and cost-effective investments nations can make in the health of their youngest members and the future health of their economies and societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “By failing to invest in breastfeeding, we are failing mothers and their babies—and paying a double price: in lost lives and in lost opportunity.”

PAHO said the investment case shows that in five of the world's largest emerging economies — China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria — the lack of investment in breastfeeding results in an estimated 236,000 child deaths per year and US$119 billion in economic losses.

“Globally, investment in breastfeeding is far too low,” said PAHO, stating that, each year, governments in lower- and middle-income countries, such as some in the Caribbean, spend about US$250 million on breastfeeding promotion, with donors providing only an additional US$85 million.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective has called on Caribbean and other countries to increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through two years.

It has also called on countries to fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly resolutions “through strong legal measures that are enforced and independently monitored by organisations free from conflicts of interest”.

Additionally, the Global Breastfeeding Collective urges countries to enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, building on the International Labor Organization's maternity protection guidelines as a minimum requirement, including provisions for the informal sector.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective wants countries to implement the 'Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding' in maternity facilities — including providing breastmilk for sick and vulnerable newborns — and improve access to skilled breastfeeding counselling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programmes in health facilities.

“Breastfeeding is critical for the achievement of many of the [UN's] Sustainable Development Goals [SDG],” PAHO said. “It improves nutrition (SDG2), prevents child mortality, and decreases the risk of non-communicable diseases (SDG3), and supports cognitive development and education (SDG4).

“Breastfeeding is also an enabler to ending poverty, promoting economic growth, and reducing inequalities,” it added.

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