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Investment in exclusive breastfeeding reduces child malnutrition, poverty

As Nigeria joins the global community to celebrate this year’s world breastfeeding week which kicked off on August 1, mothers have been urged to exclusively breastfeed their babies to reduce child malnutrition and poverty.

According to experts, breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need as it gives babies the healthiest start in life and also contributes to the economic development of a nation.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says breast milk provides antibodies and healthy growth and the development required by children; hence governments at all levels are enjoined to invest in interventions that promote and improve breastfeeding practices in Nigeria and to also enforce an international code to prevent misleading marketing of formula milk.

The theme of this year’s celebration is “Sustaining breastfeeding together’’.

According to a new report released on Tuesday by UNICEF and the World Health Organization in collaboration with the Global Breastfeeding Collective, a new initiative to increase global breastfeeding rates, no country in the world – including Nigeria has fully met recommended standards for breastfeeding.

The report revealed that the world has failed babies and mothers due to lack of investment in breastfeeding even as new analysis showed that an investment of US$4.70 per newborn could generate US$300 billion in economic gains by 2025.

The Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, which evaluated 194 nations, found that only 40 per cent of children younger than six months are breastfed exclusively (given nothing but breast milk) and only 23 countries have exclusive breastfeeding rates above 60 per cent.

Evidence shows that breastfeeding has cognitive and health benefits for both infants and their mothers and that it is especially critical during the first six months of life as it helps prevent diarrhea and pneumonia, two major causes of death in infants.

Experts say mothers who breastfeed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, two leading causes of death among women.

“Breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start in life,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“Breast milk 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 noted.

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.

The report entitled, “Nurturing the Health and Wealth of Nations: The Investment Case for Breastfeeding”, suggested 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 UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake:“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.

“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.”

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

The report further revealed that globally, investment in breastfeeding is far too low. And that each year, governments in lower and middle-income countries spend approximately US$250 million on breastfeeding programs, while donors provide only an additional US$85 million.

The Global Breastfeeding Collective is therefore calling on countries to do the following:
• Increase funding to raise breastfeeding rates from birth through two years.

• 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 organizations free from conflicts of interest.

• Enact paid family leave and workplace breastfeeding policies, building on the International Labour Organization’s maternity protection guidelines as a minimum requirement, including provisions for the informal sector.

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