WINDHOEK: Ten per cent of babies born in Namibia do not know the taste of milk as they only survive on plain water during the first two months of their life.
This is one of the facts contained in a fact sheet by the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ Food and Nutrition Sub-Division, which was issued on Tuesday in commemoration of breastfeeding week in Namibia.
Breastfeeding week commenced on 01 August 2012 and ends on Tuesday.
“Ten per cent of babies are fed plain water during the first two months of life. Only 33 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, therefore placing infants at greater risk of diarrhoeal diseases. Twenty-three per cent of child deaths amongst children zero to five years of age are the result of diarrhoeal diseases,” the fact sheet stated.
Science has established that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life is the single best strategy for the infant’s survival, growth and development.
While most mothers in Namibia may start breastfeeding their babies shortly after birth, exclusive breastfeeding is less commonly practiced.
The trend of exclusive breastfeeding has not changed significantly between 1992 and 2006, according to data from the 2006 Demographic Health Survey.
The survey found that at zero to two months old, 54 per cent of infants were exclusively breastfed. At two to three months, 23 per cent were exclusively breastfed and between four and six months, less than six per cent of infants were still exclusively breastfeeding.
“What we know about breastfeeding practices in Namibia is that low rates of exclusive breastfeeding and the practice of giving babies other foods and liquids, such as water, animal milks and formula before the age of six months falls very short of providing babies with the best possible start in life. Although limited, current evidence suggested that possibly thousands of Namibian children fail to achieve their full growth and development potential because of poor infant feeding practices,” it said.
However, current activities to improve infant feeding in Namibia are the training of health-care providers and community-based health-care workers in community infant and young child feeding counseling. Doctors and nurses from the 34 major hospitals in the country have also been trained in in-patient management of acute malnutrition in order for them to appropriately screen for, assess and treat malnourished children; while nutrition advocacy meetings will be held in nine regions whereby health and non-health sectors will learn about the importance of breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding. In addition, nutrition advocacy meetings commenced on 01 July and will e held until 31 October this year.
Breastfeeding week marks the 20th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week. The focus this year was on progress made towards improving infant and young child feeding practices across the globe, particularly on how countries have progressed with respect to implementing the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, which was adopted by the World Health Organisation and United Nations Childrens’ Fund (UNICEF) ten years ago.
It also plans the future; identifying where gaps remain and making a firm commitment to implement the 10 Areas of Action as outlined in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.
The Areas of Action include having national policies and programmes in place to support breastfeeding and upholding the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes along with supporting mothers’ health and nutrition.