South African Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says prematurity continues to be one of the biggest causes of new born deaths in the country.

“While this number has decreased over the past five years, it is still far higher than the target of 25 per 1,000 set in the Sustainable Development Goals, which we need to reach by 2030. Of the 38,000 under five deaths (per year), around 11,000 occur in the new born period, that is in the first month of life,” he said at an event to mark World Prematurity Day in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria, Thursday.

Motsoaledi said in the public sector in South Africa, 38,000 children under the age of five die each year. Of the 11,000 babies who die in the first month of life, about 3,000 deaths per year are due to prematurity.

He encouraged mothers of new born babies to breastfeed them. “Breast milk has many advantages for the health of babies and mothers, and we must do all in our power to ensure that every single mother is supported to give their babies mother’s milk only, not even water for the first six months of the baby’s life. Babies need nothing else – no additional food or solids… We need to make sure that as a nation, we make it easy for mothers to breastfeed their babies,” Motsoaledi said.

He said communities, families and mothers need to be given information of the advantages of breastfeeding and how to breastfeed.

“Moms need to be encouraged to breastfeed whenever the baby needs milk wherever they are, including in public places. Breastfeeding your baby is the best gift that you can give your baby.

We should all take responsibility to discourage formula feeding, which should only be used as a very last resort where there are medical reasons,” he said.


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