Poor sub-optimal breastfeeding practices put babies at risk of compromised health and malnutrition, with the potential of increasing infant illness and death, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Director-General, Ghana Heath Service (GHS), has declared.

Dr Nsiah-Asare said there was mounting evidence to support the claim that exclusive breastfeeding was the most optimal infant and young child feeding option, in line with the global recommendation by the  global public health community, led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Addressing a news conference to orientate the media on World Breastfeeding Week in Accra, yesterday, the GHS Director-General said Ghana had made strides in the adoption of recommended breastfeeding practices such as early initiation of breastfeeding within the first thirty minutes and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, adding, however, that the rates had stagnated in the recent past.

He cited the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey which indicated that only about 52 percent of Ghanaian children were exclusively breastfed with wide disparities which, he said, meant, however, that about half of all Ghanaian children were being deprived of the life-saving intervention of breastfeeding.

Dr Nsiah-Asare said to effectively promote optimal breastfeeding practices, GHS had been providing continuous training and capacity development for health professionals whose work entailed supporting mothers during pregnancy and delivery as well as organizing postnatal clinics and well-baby clinics across the country.

In addition, he said, GHS had been implementing the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative which, he said, essentially outlined the ways that maternity facilities should support women to initiate breastfeeding and practice exclusive breastfeeding for the six months of baby’s life.

Furthermore, he said, in order to improve the quality and scale-up implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, GHS had expanded the scope, continued the building of capacity of maternity staff and decentralized the implementation process.

Dr Nsiah-Asare disclosed that Guidelines on the Ghana law on Breastfeeding—Breastfeeding Promotion Regulation 2000, L.I. 1667—which prohibited the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, was operational and routinely disseminated and monitored, adding that data capture had been improved and integrated into the health information system so as to effectively monitor and assess progress on breastfeeding policies, programmes and outcomes, as well as learn what was working or needed improvement in order to direct resources, accordingly.

 He said GHS was working in collaboration with health partners in its determination to change the narrative and improve the rates of breastfeeding in Ghana.

He noted that there was an obligation on all stakeholders to ensure that women’s rights were protected from harmful interference by the business sector which encouraged the inappropriate promotion of Beast Milk Substitutes (BMS).

Dr Nsiah-Asare said it was the intention of GHS to engage corporate organizations and the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) on the need to establish baby-friendly corners within their organizations and called for a review of the current law on the marketing and distribution of breastmilk substitutes to curb the on-going violations.

In a statement, Dr Owen Kaluwa, WHO Country Representative in Ghana, said breastfeeding was critical to the survival of the new-born baby and that any delay in the initiation of breastfeeding soon after birth could have life-threatening consequences, adding that new-born babies who breastfed in the first hour of life were significantly more likely to survive.

Dr Kaluwa said there was ample evidence that breastfeeding boosted brain development and protected against overweight and obesity, while reducing breast cancer, ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes in mothers.

He listed a number of key policy actions that had been recommended within the framework of the Global Breastfeeding Requirements that Ghana should implement.

These, he said, included increased funding to strengthen, promote and support breastfeeding practices; full implementation of the International Code of marketing BMSs and other World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions; enhanced quality of care in facilities in support of early initiation of breastfeeding; improved access to skilled breastfeeding counselling; strengthening of links between health facilities and hospitals; and the development of monitoring systems to track progress of policies, programmes and funding.

Dr Kaluwa pledged the continued support of WHO for Government Ministries, Agencies and all other relevant stakeholders on early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding.

In her remarks, Ms Anne-Claire Dufay, UNICEF Representative in Ghana, described Ghana as a shining example in the West and Central Africa sub-region, with regards to progress in breastfeeding rates, mainly in relation to early initiation—with a 20.4 percentage point increase, from 35.2 in 2006 to 55.6 in 2016.

Ms Dufay noted, however, that although the highest in the sub-region, 20.4 percentage point increase was rather low in view of the percentage of women who delivered at the health facilities.

Furthermore, she said exclusive breastfeeding in Ghana had stagnated around 52 percent for a decade.

She said Ghana’s comprehensive healthcare structure could support optimal breastfeeding practices and pledged the commitment of UNICEF and sister United Nations (UN) Agencies to joining hands to invest in breast-feeding at all levels.

In a presentation, MS Esi Amoaful, Deputy Director-General, GHS, attributed the low proportion of children optimally breastfed to inadequate information on the benefits of breastfeeding.

Ms Amoaful  said harmful and aggressive actions by the business sector, especially the infant and breast-milk substitute companies through marketing activities, undermined the confidence of women in their breast-milks and their ability to choose how best to feed their babies.

Furthermore, she said, traditional practices, including administering herbal preparations and other concoctions to babies below six months of age with the belief that the babies would be protected against diseases and spiritual attacks, were obstacles against optimal breastfeeding practices.

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week is being commemorated on the theme: Breastfeeding:  Foundation of Life.

The theme recognizes that breastfeeding is a universal solution that gives every new-born a fair start in life and lays the foundation for good health and survival of children and women.  

The commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week —and Breastfeeding Awareness Month in Ghana—which is being organized by the Ministry of Health (MoH)  and GHS, provide the opportunity to undertake a variety of actions and engage with a wide range of stakeholders towards the promotion, protection and support for breastfeeding.

Key actions during the Week and Month will be focused on ensuring that women receive the needed support and health care before, during and after childbirth and promoting various measures that will ensure that mothers and their infants experience optimal breastfeeding.

The media orientation forms part of the key actions while a national launch of the breastfeeding month will follow during which MoH and GHS will embark on a nationwide campaign on the benefits of breastfeeding in general and exclusive breastfeeding in particular.

Optimal breastfeeding means that new-borns should be breasted within the first hour of life; exclusive breastfeeding—six months of breastfeeding without water, herbal tea or other drinks or food; and feeding babies older than six months with nutrient-richfamily foods, with continuous breastfeeding for two years or more.

The Breastfeeding programme began in Ghana in 1993 and, presently, 634 maternity facilities have been declared baby-friendly in Ghana, although breastfeeding facilities have been integrated into all the systems in the country.

Breastmilk banks are also available, but have not been commercialized.

Source: ISD (G.D. Zaney, Esq.)  

Created: 07 August 2018
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