By Chioma Obinna
Nutrition experts and other stakeholders in the campaign to improve breastfeeding in Nigeria have expressed worry that the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually changing the dynamics of nutrition as well as giving the opportunity to producers of breast Milk substitutes to interfere with optimal breastfeeding practice.
The experts also expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has constituted a public health emergency around the world.
The experts spoke during a webinar organised by Alive & Thrive and other partners and the Federal Ministry of Health to mark this year’s Breastfeeding Week entitled: “Breastfeeding and the Environment: Linkages and Opportunities in Nigeria.”
In his submission at the webinar, Chief of Nutrition at UNICEF, Dr Simeon Nanama, noted that the measures put in place by governments around the world to contain the spread of COVID-19 have led to greater economic devastation on the livelihood of people.
According to him, many households, especially those with infants and young children worry about the safety of breastfeeding their children at a time like this while others who want to breastfeed do not have the energy due to worsening household food insecurity.
“Nigeria has made some progress in increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding, going from 17 percent in 2013, to 29 percent in 2018. This is on average, a 1 per cent increase per year. While this is unlikely to make Nigeria meet the World Health Assembly target of 50 per cent by 2025, still, exclusive breastfeeding seems to be one of the rare nutrition indicators in which Nigeria is making slow but steady progress.”
Continuing, Nanama stated that the production, distribution, and use of Breast Milk Substitutes, BMS, has negative effects on the environment.
Senior Programme Officer, Nutrition at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Victor Ajieroh said the mechanism for the effect of breastfeeding in fostering a healthier planet only reinforces the necessity and urgency for more concerted actions to better protect, support and promote breastfeeding.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic was another factor that has further reinforced the foundational priority of supporting mothers.
“Mothers are two and half times more likely to breastfeed when breastfeeding is supported and promoted and protected. Studies have also shown that a one month increase in paid maternal leave was associated with 7.4 per cent increase in the prevalence of early initiation, and a 5.7 percent in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding, a 2.2-month increase in the period of breastfeeding duration. Marketing of breast milk substitutes discourages mothers from breastfeeding properly”.
Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Obafemi Awolowo University, Dr Beatrice Ogunba, said breastfeeding leaves zero ecological footprints; it uses none of our scarce natural resources and therefore can be sustained. It does not use fuel for production, for distribution or for sterilisation. A baby can be exclusively breastfed without a single drop of water.
Speaking, Associate Director/Team Lead at Alive & Thrive, Dr Uche Ralph-Opara, said Alive & Thrive’s is supporting Lagos, Kaduna, and nine other states to scale up optimal maternal, infant and young child practices through a four-pronged approach: policy advocacy, interpersonal communication, and community mobilisation, mass media, and the strategic use of data.
The Webinar was moderated by the Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Chris Isokpunwu, and others.