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Diarrhoea: Exclusive breastfeeding, handwashing, safe water to the rescue


As diarrhoea remains a major contributor to the increasing rates of infant mortality worldwide, experts have identified hand washing, safe water storage and proper handling in the preparation of infant feeds as an effective way to preventing the disease.

The experts who gathered at the Nestle Nutrition Seminar tagged: “Role of Infant Nutrition in Immunity and Development” in Lagos last week, also pointed out that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is best for the child.

In her paper entitled; Hygiene in Infant Feeding: Implications & Way Forward”, a Consultant Paediatrician from Mercy Street Children’s Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Zainab Imam who stressed that female education makes exclusive breastfeeding and hand washing possible, recommended hand washing with soap/ash, safe disposal of children’s faeces and safe water storage and handling as acceptable methods to check unnecessary death among children.

Imam who noted that workshop was part of efforts to sensitise stakeholders on evidence-based methods to reduce risk factors for the contamination of infant feeds, said it has been documented that proper hand washing with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoea by 42-47 per cent. She also added that supply of portable water would save millions of lives, she noted the importance of infant formula packaging.

According to her, the scoop found in the tin of formula requires a rest from which it can be obtained without contaminating the milk powder. Imam called for proper sterilisation of feeding utensils. “These should boil 5 minutes before use. It is importance to note that sterilisation is required before each feed. Once or twice a day cannot suffice”, she added.

She further advised against the use of unwashed or improperly washed hands to dig for scoops in children’s feeds and noted that suchunhealthy practice contaminates the food.

Other practices, which were also criticised for increasing the risk of diarrhoea in children include general unsanitary household, poor personal hygiene, malnutrition, lack of immunisation and poor maternal education. Imam advocated the use of cup feeds, instead of bottle feeds. Supplementation of infant formula with probiotics enhances healthier gut flora and reduces diarrhoea.

She called for  education of women, explaining that with informed knowledge, women are better positioned to make healthier choices regarding breastfeeding babies exclusively.

Delivering his paper entitled; “Role of Infant Nutrition in Immunity and Development, a Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Hospital Italiano, Buenos Aires in Argentina, Prof. Carlos Lifschitz said microflora play an important role in intestinal immune system and highlighted not all bacterial  are bad. Hence, the recommendation to include probiotics to supplement infant feeds.

Lifschitz said probiotics improve disease management by stabilising gut barrier function, promoting immune tolerance against food antigens, stimulating immune response to pathogens and down – regulating allergic inflammatory reactions.


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