Mr Charles Abani, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Ghana, has described breastfeeding; which delivers health and nutritional benefits to both children and mothers as a life-saving gift.
“Breastfeeding is undoubtedly one of nature’s most powerful life-saving gifts. It provides antibodies that protect babies against many childhood illnesses and therefore, can prevent premature mortality and to reduce the risk of maternal and child mortality,” he said at the official launch of the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week campaign in Accra.
He said in the longer term, the magical ingredients of breast milk prevented the risk of acquiring non-communicable diseases, including childhood asthma, obesity, diabetes, and heart-related diseases.
The event, which was held virtually due to the Coronavirus pandemic, was officially launched by the First Lady Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo on the theme, “Start Right. Feed Right – from Birth to two years”.
It was organised by the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The campaign is aimed at supporting mothers, families, communities, and businesses to understand and reap the benefits of breastfeeding.
It is also aimed at reducing malnutrition during the first 1000 days of a child’s life – which can hinder their overall growth and health.
Mr Abani said the WHO had confirmed that the benefits of breast milk to mother and child far outweighed any risk from the new Coronavirus pandemic.
He said beyond the health benefits, breastfeeding had some economic benefits to families in a way that could help address disparities and inequities; for instance, the prevention of illnesses as a result of breastfeeding could enable families to reduce out of pocket expenditures to treat illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
Mr Abani said when a population with limited access to health systems and infrastructure relied on breastfeeding, it lessened inequities in access to health services.
He intimated that recent research by a partner, “Alive and Thrive” quantified the benefits of breastfeeding in different countries.
Mr Abani said for Ghana, optimal breastfeeding could prevent 3,774 deaths of babies each year and prevent 302 maternal deaths from cancers and type II diabetes.
He said it could save Ghana over $ 5.8 million – money, which was spent in healthcare costs; and generate more than $594 million for the economy, nearly 1.5 percent of Ghana’s gross net income through having a healthier population.
“Breast milk is natural and renewable food. Breast milk is neither packaged nor shipped, and it is never cooked; it is environmentally friendly,” Mr Abani added.
“Regrettably, despite the wonders of breastfeeding, we are informed that only half of Ghana’s children (52 percent) are put to the breast in the first hour of life. Sadly, exclusive breastfeeding rates for children less than six months are declining (43 percent).
“We need to tap into the benefits of breastfeeding and make it sustainable for the sake of our children,” he said.
Mr Abani said the benefits of breast milk must, therefore, be championed by all – every policymaker, every health service provider, every employer, every business, every community, every family.
Mrs Akufo-Addo said: “A mother’s breast milk is the most precious gift, which she can give to her child at birth.”
“Remember, your baby deserves the best start in life. Start right. Feed Right from birth to two years.”
Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Health Minister, in a speech read on his behalf said issues related to nutrition and essential care for women and children had been well articulated in the Roadmap for Universal Health Coverage and the expectation was that the stage was set for implementing evidence-based initiatives that supported breastfeeding and optimal complementary feeding.
“On-going discussions are focusing on actions to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in all policy areas, in healthcare settings, and the wider community,” he added.
Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General, GHS, said the Service continued to improve access to skilled breastfeeding counselling as part of comprehensive breastfeeding policies and programmes in health facilities.
He said additionally the Service was scaling up the infant and young child feeding interventions including the ten steps to successful breastfeeding in maternity.