Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, the Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), on Monday, said although the country has made appreciable strides in promoting Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF), continued rates, have stagnated in the recent past.
Dr Nsiah-Asare in a News briefing and media orientation in Accra, for the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week, said the country’s EBF rates according to the 2014 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS) stood at 52 per cent, with wide disparities.
This, he said, was an indication that close to half of all Ghanaians were somehow deprived of the lifesaving intervention.
He said the figure, represented a gradual improvement from the 2010 figure of 46.7 per cent after a drop from the national figure of almost 70 per cent in 2008.
The Director General said reasons such as; inadequate information on the benefits of breastfeeding, poor support from spouses and family members, rapid urbanisation affecting the work environment of women, and the absence of adequate support systems to address these emerging challenges, may have accounted for the trend.
He said notwithstanding the numerous actions and interventions including; the continuous training and capacity development of key health professionals, implementing Baby Friendly Hospital Initiatives and the Breastfeeding Promotion Regulation 2000, LI 1667, which prohibited marketing of breast milk substitutes, the proportion of children who were optimally breastfed still remained low.
Ghana, he said, had been promoting early initiation of breastfeeding within the first 30 minutes of birth and exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life, however for this to be done effectively, the environment in which women lived and worked must support them, and this required strengthened collaboration to change the narration.
The poor and sub-optimal breastfeeding practice, he noted, put babies at a higher risk of compromised health and malnutrition, which had the potential of increasing infant illnesses and death.
“There is mounting scientific evidence that support the fact that exclusive breastfeeding is the most optimal infant and young child feeding option, and in line with recommendation by the global public health community led by UNICEF and WHO”, he said.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said the week-long commemoration on the theme: “Breastfeeding Foundation of Life”, would present an opportunity for effective discussions on renewing the collective commitment and actions on improving EBF policies and programmes.
It was expected to enhance awareness about the fact that breastfeeding was not just a woman’s issue or the sole responsibility of women, but the “promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding is a collective, societal responsibility that should be shared by all”.
He said key actions were focused on ensuring that women received the needed support and health care before, during and after childbirth, as well as promote various measures to ensure that mothers and their infants experienced optimal breastfeeding.
To ensure these, the GHS was embarking on a series of advocacy and orientation sessions with stakeholders including the media, where proposed actions would be focused on the need to review and extend the provisions in the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Maternity Protection Regulations which, was currently 12 weeks and the need to support women at the workplace including those in the informal sector, he said.
Dr Nsiah-Asare said in addition to the national launch of the breastfeeding week later this month, a nationwide campaign would be initiated to educate the public on why water was not needed in the first six months of life, to improve the quality and practice of EBF alongside engaging community groups to support women and families.
Ms Annie-Claire Dufay, the UNICEF Representative in Ghana said breast milk given to children immediately after birth provided essential nutrients including; anti-bodies that nourished and protected infants from disease and death, while the skin-to-skin bonding with their mothers also kept them warm.
She said UNICEF was working with the GHS and other partners to rebrand breastfeeding in Ghana, and bring it back on track as was done in the early 1990’s, when support for breastfeeding was tremendous.
Dr Owen Laws Kaluwa, the WHO Country Representative, insisted that giving all new-borns an early start to breastfeeding required action on the part of multiple stakeholders, especially governments, health care institutions and health care workers.
He urged the Government to also adhere to the recommendations of the Global Breastfeeding Collective by increasing funding to strengthen, promote and support the practice, fully implement the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, enhance quality of care in facilities in support of early initiation of breastfeeding, and develop monitoring systems to track progress of policies, programmes and funding.
He urged the media to intensify their advocacy, information and education on the immense benefits of EBF for the first six months of life and continue breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.