UN agencies step up efforts to promote breastfeeding in Africa

By Xinhua
On 21 February 2024 at 06:54

The World Health Organization (WHO), in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has enhanced efforts across Africa to advance the implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in countries to promote breastfeeding.

The two UN agencies said Tuesday that they convened in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, a capacity-building workshop last week targeting healthcare professionals, policymakers, and stakeholders from ten countries — Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — focused on enhancing countries’ capabilities to effectively implement the BFHI as an integral component of maternal and newborn health quality care strategies.

Abdourahmane Diallo, the WHO representative to Kenya, said by strengthening healthcare professionals’ capacity to promote breastfeeding and implement the BFHI, the WHO and its partners are laying a solid foundation for improving newborn survival, reducing childhood morbidity and mortality, and achieving sustainable development goals.

"This capacity-building workshop represents a significant milestone in our collective efforts to advance maternal and child health outcomes in Africa," Diallo said in a joint statement issued in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

The BFHI, a global effort launched by the WHO and UNICEF, aims to protect and support breastfeeding and mother-baby bonding by ensuring that maternity facilities adhere to the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

According to global evidence, implementing the BFHI significantly improves breastfeeding rates and better child health outcomes.

Early initiation of breastfeeding has proven to reduce the risk of infant mortality and is important in driving progress against global nutrition targets — against stunting, anemia in women of reproductive age, low birth weight, childhood overweight, and wasting.

Implementation of the BFHI, however, is still below standard as in the African region, only 2 out of 42 countries have more than 50 percent of births in baby-friendly facilities, the UN agencies said.

It is against this backdrop that the WHO and partners met in Kenya to accelerate countries’ commitment and action to adapting and institutionalizing the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding within national standards of care, strengthening country-led, comprehensive approaches to increased access to skilled breastfeeding counseling.

Christiane Rudert, the regional adviser for UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa, said that such capacity-building workshops play a crucial role in equipping healthcare practitioners and other stakeholders with the necessary tools to offer essential support to infants and mothers, particularly from vulnerable communities.

The workshop also provided a platform for participants to exchange experiences, share best practices, and forge partnerships for collective action to advance the implementation of the BFHI.