31 July 2012

Nigeria: Nutrition Lacks Government Budget

Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu has urged policy makers in federal, state and council governments to open a budget line for nutrition as part of their capital expenditures.

In an address marking World Breastfeeding Week, he also called on private sector and Nigerians to increase support for mothers and caregivers to achieve optimal practice in feeding infants and young children, using means that include breastfeeding.

He said such support is "to enable use realise and sustain our MDG [Millennium Development Goal] targets through this high-impact, low-cost intervention."

Optimal breastfeeding, included exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of infant life, as recommended by the World Health Organisation is critical to preventing at least 13% of all child deaths--more than any other intervention to prevent deaths.

Continuing breastfeeding for up to two years, even when infants begin taking complementary foods, could also prevent an additional 6% of deaths, according to estimates by the Lancet Series.

Educating women

Stunting in children has been linked to poor breastfeeding practice, according to a recent study published by the charity Save the Children this year.

This is the 20th year of World Breastfeeding Week. A global strategy for infant and young child feeding has also been in place for the past 10 years. But there is some evidence that practice is far from set targets.

Onyebuchi called for women to be re-educated about breastfeeding practice, saying many "have been misinformed on the principles of infant and young child feeding."

"We therefore need to reinforce their knowledge and help them to overcome any subsisting doubt about their ability to feed the baby solely from breasts within the first 6 months, without even water," he said.

"The support from all of us may be as official as providing crèches in workplaces and enforcing regulations on the provision of crèches in work places and on maternity leave to female employees, or as simple and personal as support with house chores to reduce workload for breast feeding mothers."

On track?

Since 1991, health authorities have established a rash of baby-friendly centres in hospitals to encourage breastfeeding practice.

At least 96 designated breastfeeding health facilities are up in 12 states, said Onyebuchi. Teaching hospitals in the 12 states--Edo, Anambra, Delta, Imo, Ogun, Yobe, Lagos, Benue, Kaduna, Borno and Zamfara--have breastfeeding support groups.

He said tracking Nigeria's progress since 2010 showed it was on track in promoting optimal feeding of infants and young children, after recently updating its policy and guidelines on the programme and integrating it into curriculums for medical, nursing and midwifery schools.

Establishment of crèches in workplaces to support working mothers and providing flexible working breaks to enable mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months is also ongoing, but private-sector employees are yet to meet such requirements.

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