The Ghana Health Service has launched a national campaign to promote and raise awareness of the benefits of breasfeeding as part of activities to commemorate the 2020 World Breastfeeding Week.
Known as the “Start Right, Feed Right–from birth to two years ” it is being supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who are the major implementing partners.
It aims to raise more awareness of the benefits and the need for six months of exclusive breastfeeding and complementing breastfeeding with other nutritious foods after six months until two years.
Launching the campaign virtually in Accra on Thursday, the First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, said there was substantial evidence that exclusive breastfeeding for six months had many benefits for the infant and mother.
She said scientific evidence had proven that early initiation of breastfeeding, within one hour of birth, protected the newborn from acquiring infections and reduces newborn mortality; boosts their immune system, increases their intellectual abilities while it protects mothers from some cancers, among other benefits.
She said the commemoration was another opportunity to remind stakeholders that six months of exclusive breastfeeding was one of the best investments to saving human lives and improving the health, social and economic well-being of individuals and nations.
She noted that the WHO had established that it was safe for mothers with or who had recovered from COVID-19 to breastfeed.
“As we communicate this to our women, it is also important to emphasise all the safety precautions in relation to the preventive protocols they need to take,” she said.
Mrs Akufo-Addo said it was important to take a more critical look at the breast feeding situation in the country, mentioning that the current rate of 43 per cent exclusive breastfeeding was a drop from 63 per cent in 2008.
That, she stressed, called for more efforts to support mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months.
She underscored the need to improve current support systems for exclusive breastfeeding, especially, by creating the enabling environment in the workplaces, markets and all public places for women to breastfeed.
All stakeholders are needed to work collectively to help establish exclusive breastfeeding as a cultural norm, Mrs Akufo-Addo stated.
The 2020 theme is “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet.”
World Breastfeeding Week is an annual celebration which is held every year from August 1 to 7 to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding.
It was initiated in 1991 by the WHO and UNICEF with the goal to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life because science says it yields many health benefits, including providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and fostering growth and development.
Benefits and prospects
The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr Charles Abani, said as the week was being commemorated amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was prudent to reiterate the benefits of breast milk to safeguarding the lives of newborns.
“It provides antibodies that protect children against many childhood illnesses and reduce premature maternal and child mortalities. The magical ingredients in breast milk prevent the risk of acquiring non-communicable diseases such as childhood asthma, obesity, diabetes and heart-related diseases.
“The WHO has confirmed that the benefits of breast milk to mother and child far outweigh any risk from the new coronavirus pandemic,” he emphasized. He called for collective efforts to champion breastfeeding and underscored the need to tap into the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.
In a statement read on his behalf, the Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman Manu, gave an assurance that the government would leave no stone unturned in supporting the health system to roll out programmes that would ensure that families and mothers received the necessary support to breastfeed successfully.