Research has shown that newborns account for nearly half of all deaths of children under five years and that early breastfeeding can make the difference between life and death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) say an estimated 78 million babies – or three in five – are not breastfed within the first hour of life, hence putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding.
According to UNICEF, delayed breastfeeding increases risk of newborn deaths by up to 80 per cent and that about 500 thousand newborns in Ghana are not breastfed within the first hour of life.
It is therefore not surprising that August 1-7 is celebrated as the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) annually to promote breastfeeding and improve infant nutrition around the world.
A woman asking a question during a durbar to talk about exclusive breastfeeding
The WBW was established in 1992 to celebrate the importance of breastfeeding and is coordinated annually by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).
France Bégin, UNICEF Senior Nutrition Adviser in 2016, for instance, said: “If all babies are fed nothing but breastmilk from the moment they are born until they are six months old, over 800,000 lives would be saved every year worldwide.”
According to Bégin, “Breastmilk is a baby’s first vaccine, the first and best protection they have against illness and disease.”
The 2014 Ghana Demographic and Health Survey indicate that almost half of Ghanaian babies are not breastfed within first hour of birth.
Relatedly, only 52 per cent of infants under six months old in Ghana are exclusively breastfed. However, experts say that babies who are not breastfed at all are 14 times more likely to die than those who are fed only breastmilk.
WABA through the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) is providing seed grants to 26 organizations across the world to strengthen the linkages along the breastfeeding continuum known as “breastfeeding warm chain”.
Officials from RISE-Ghana interacting explaining importance of exclusive breastfeeding at a durbar
The purpose of the project is to increase optimal breastfeeding practices among mothers by increasing awareness on the importance and the need to support breastfeeding and introducing innovative approaches for early initiation and community buy-in.
RISE-Ghana, a local NGO based in Upper East Region is one of the WABA supported NGOs to strengthen the “breastfeeding warm chain” by working with male champions such as traditional leaders, religious leaders, young fathers and power holders to break barriers that prevent uptake of optimal breastfeeding practices.
Through a radio programme, RISE-Ghana brings together chiefs, opinion leaders and duty bearers in the Upper East and Northern Regions to share their personal experiences on how lack of exclusive breastfeeding affects children and also encourage people to embrace the practice of exclusive breastfeeding.
The chiefs, for instance, included the Naaba Salifu Lemyaarum, Vice President of Upper East Regional House of Chief and Paramount Chief of Bongo Traditional Area and Pe Thomas Alua, Chief of Kazugu in the Kasena Nankana West District.
In an interview, the Executive Director of RISE-Ghana, Mr Awal Ahmed Kariyama, said the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target for ending preventable newborn and child deaths by 2030 and Ghana’s New Born Care Action Plan target cannot be met without strengthening the breastfeeding warm chain.
He added that “Ghana’s National Newborn Health Strategy and Action Plan which aims to reduce neonatal mortality rate from 32/1,000 live births in 2011 to 21/1,000 live births in 2018 and decrease the institutional neonatal mortality by at least 35 per cent by 2018 among others cannot be attained without strengthening the warm chain at the health facility, family and community levels.”