Motsoaledi promotes breastfeeding

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pretoria - South Africa's Health Minister is on a mission to encourage mothers to breastfeed as a way of promoting optimum infant health.

"The benefits of breastfeeding are well recognised for both infant and mother. Breastfeeding has a profound impact on child's survival, health, nutrition and development - and we have known this for decades," said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi at the Breast Consultative Meeting held in Pretoria.

He bemoaned the fact that South Africa was one of 12 countries in the world in which child mortality was increasing, saying that measures, including breastfeeding, needed to be taken to reverse the trend.

Breastfeeding initiation rates are reportedly high in South Africa, but exclusive and extended breastfeeding is far from ideal.

"South Africa is one of the countries with low prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding at 8%, according to the 2003 Demographic and Health Survey. A dramatic drop in exclusive breastfeeding rates was reported in the age group 4-6 months, where only 1.5% of infants were exclusively breastfed. This is one of the lowest rates of exclusive breastfeeding in the world," said Motsoaledi.

The minister said data from the Human Sciences Research Council national survey suggests that among infants in the 0-6 month group, 25.7% were reported to be exclusively breastfed, while 51.3% were mixed fed, with solids and formula being "introduced far too early in life."

Motsoaledi unpacked GOBIFFF [growth monitoring; oral rehydration; breastfeeding; immunization; female education; family planning; food supplementation and security], which was a 1980s UNICEF strategy to improve child health.

"I want us to return to GOBIFFF as we strengthen maternal and child health services in South Africa," he said, adding that the number of women who could not breastfeed due to medical reasons was marginal.

He attributed the decline in breastfeeding to the aggressive promotion of formula and mothers not being able to continue once they return to work.

The meeting was also set to discuss breastfeeding in the context of HIV.

"I asked the department to invite academics and researchers as well as a wide range of stakeholders and partners to both present the evidence on breastfeeding so that we can generate consensus on policy and practice on breastfeeding, especially in the context of HIV.

"There is new scientific evidence on the safety of exclusive breastfeeding in the context of HIV. This evidence will be shared at the meeting so that we can collectively take decisions based on evidence," said Motsoaledi.

The meeting continues tomorrow.

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