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Coronavirus - Mauritius: Promoting and Protecting Breastfeeding for a better start in Life

Coronavirus - Mauritius: Promoting and Protecting Breastfeeding for a better start in Life

Mauritius marked World Breastfeeding Week 2020 by an official ceremony performed by Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Hon. Kailash Jagutpal on 06 August 2020 at the Victoria Hospital, Candos. In line with this year’s theme, the country aims at creating awareness among young people on the importance of breast feeding and its positive contribution to a healthier planet.

During the opening of the official ceremony, Dr Hon. Kailash Jagutpal, Minister of Health and Wellness, emphasized breastfeeding as key to all of the United Nations SDGs.  “Breastfeeding is directly linked to goal 3 on greater health and wellbeing and can also be aligned with Goal 4 on Education”, stated Dr Hon K. Jagutpal.  He added that mothers should be sensitized on the entire benefits of breastfeeding, including improving the cognitive ability of the child which is conducive to better learning outcomes.  “Breastfed babies are healthier and they are less likely to need excessive medical attention as they grow”, said the Health Minister.

 “The optimum use of energy and less waste to our landfills has a direct bearing on our commitment to curb down global pollution trends. This is reminiscent of Goal 12 of the SDG as it contributes to the health of our planet”, highlighted the Health Minister.

WHO Representative in Mauritius, Dr Laurent Musango during his address, advocated for the setting up of a “National Breastfeeding Promotion and Protection Committee“ as recommended in the National Framework to improve Maternal Newborn Child Health published in November 2019.   He recalled that since 2016, breastfeeding has been aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and one of the Global Nutrition Targets 2025 is “to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50%.”

‘It is crucial to strengthen breastfeeding support to mothers in order for the country to increase breastfeeding by 50%”, added Dr Musango.

According to studies, 11.6% of mortality in children under 5 years of age in the world, that is about 804 000 child death is due to non-exclusive breastfeeding. 

Dr L. Musango highlighted the importance for the country to invest in skilled breastfeeding counselling services and mobilizing the necessary financial resources for breastfeeding programmes and improved monitoring and implementation of policies, programmes and services.  The training and strengthening capacity of health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families is also crucial to achieve the global nutrition targets.  It is also essential to ensure that counselling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services and it is easily accessible.  Partnership and collaboration with civil society and health professional associations should also be encouraged.  It is aslo true that health care workers need to be protected from the influence of the baby food industry.

“Together, through commitment, concerted action and collaboration, let us ensure that every mother has access to skilled breastfeeding counselling.  It is critical to empower mothers to give her baby the best possible start in life”, concluded Dr L. Musango

Dr (Mrs) Rajeshwari Gopaul, Focal Point for Sexual  and Reproductive Health at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, during her intervention, stressed that “there is no food more locally produced, more sustainable or more environmentally friendly than breast milk”.   The latter also pointed out how protection and promotion of breastfeeding can contribute significantly to protecting the planet in terms of eco-friendly packaging, no green-house emission, energy and land conservation, zero “food miles” and reduced Chemical and Toxin exposure.

“Today, the world is facing the pandemic of COVId 19. Concerns have been raised about breast feeding and the transmission of the virus from the infected mother to the child”, said Dr R. Gopaul before adding that “WHO recommends to encourage to initiate or continue to breast feed in case of suspected or confirmed COVID-19”.   According to Dr R. Gopaul, breast feeding is one of the best ways to protect the planet’s eco system.  It helps to ensure food security and is vastly important to carbon footprint.

Globally, only 38% of infants aged Zero to 6 months are exclusively breastfed while according to a national survey carried out by the Mauritius Institute of Health in 2017, among 480 mothers only 39% had breastfed their babies for the first four months and only 24% of mothers who ever breastfed did so within one hour of giving birth.  Moreover, 60% of mothers were assisted to start breastfeeding.

WHO focuses on exclusive breastfeeding as a cornerstone of child survival and child health because it provides essential, irreplaceable nutrition for a child’s growth and development. It serves as a child’s first immunization by providing protection from respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, and potentially life-threatening ailments.  The protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against obesity and certain NCDs later in life was also emphasized.

The country has been celebrating this important event every year since 1993 to encourage breastfeeding through strengthened sensitization campaigns with a view to improving the health of babies and mothers.   Health professionals and other key stakeholders will also be participating in a one- day workshop to devise strategies to promote and protect breastfeeding so that babies are always given a better start in life.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.WHO Regional Office for Africa
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