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World Breastfeeding Week - Empower and Enable

In many ways World Breastfeeding Week is business as usual for the Wellbeing Foundation Africa. Educating, empowering and supporting women to breastfeed is at the core of our work, and our MamaCare midwives are the experts.  Every antenatal and postnatal class – whether that is in a hospital in Lagos or a camp for internally displaced persons in Abuja - they field questions and provide the facts.


World Breastfeeding Week does, however, provide us with an opportunity to reach out beyond the women who attend our classes or follow our online #MaternalMonday campaign. As we mark 29 years since the signing of the Innocenti Declaration in August 1990 by governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other organizations, with the aim of protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, our target is twofold: to reach women and communities with the information they need to keep themselves and their babies safe, and to remind governments of their obligations to the citizens they serve.

From a global health perspective, the statistics are stark. If we achieve close to universal levels of breastfeeding, 800 000 lives would be saved every year – mainly babies under six months old. The benefits to mothers are less well known: it decreases their risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.


A study carried out by the Federal Ministry of Health, Alive & Thrive and UNICEF on the economic cost of not breastfeeding showed that Nigeria stands to lose more than US$49 billion a year due to future cognitive losses associated with suboptimal breastfeeding and that Nigerian households spend over US$438 million on breast-milk substitutes per year, costing workers up to 34 per cent of their minimum wage earnings to pay for economy brand infant formula.

As Special Adviser to the Independent Advisory Group to the World Health Organization Regional Officer for Africa, I advocate for every government to adopt and implement the World Health Assembly International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which aimed to protect and promote breastfeeding, through the provision of adequate information on appropriate infant feeding and the regulation of the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, bottles and teats. In subsequent years additional resolutions have further defined and strengthened the Code.


In Nigeria this week, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa will hold a series of events to create awareness on optimal breastfeeding practices including early initiation to breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months.

That crucial first hour is one which all mothers and healthcare professionals must hold to be of the utmost importance. The so-called ‘first vaccine’ of a baby is the goal: the first skin-to-skin contact along with suckling at the breast stimulates the production of breastmilk, including colostrum, which provides a rich dose of nutrients and antibodies.


In 2012, the World Health Assembly Resolution 65.6 endorsed a comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant and young child nutrition which specified six global nutrition targets for 2025 – including increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50%.  For Nigeria to move towards such a rate, we must heed the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, but also adopt a multi-sectoral, partnerships-based approach.

Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five. An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), but only two out of every 10 children affected is currently reached with treatment. As a member of the Federal Ministry of Health Core Committee for Civil Society Organisations, I look forward to the launch of Nigeria’s National Zero Water Campaign and the National Micronutrient Conference over the next week, to catalyse beneficial actions to scale Nigeria’s targets as a baby-friendly nation.


The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, of which I am the Founder-President, is a proud partner of Alive and Thrive, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and managed by FHI360. Alive & Thrive saves lives, prevents illness and ensures healthy growth and development through improved breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, through a four-pronged approach:  policy and advocacy; interpersonal communication and community mobilization; mass communication; and strategic use of data. An important part of our work has been the assessment and evaluation of practices that are already being undertaken, as without a thorough grasp of existing practices, population and facility practices, we will be unable to achieve any of our ambitious targets. We now operate Alive & Thrive in 512 healthcare facilities in Lagos and 60 in Kaduna State, in addition to our MamaCare + Nutrition programme in 30 healthcare facilities in Abuja in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and 30 additional original MamaCare locations.

Our work is complemented by partners and governments, and I must commend co-focused bilateral implementing partners UNICEF and Save the Children. I am additionally encouraged by the UK’s Department for International Development, whose WINN programme improves nutrition to benefit 6.2 million children under five across five states in northern Nigeria. Scaling up our impact together will save millions of lives in Nigeria and around the world. Let’s empower parents and enable breastfeeding together.

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