The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) Authority, which is a multi-sectoral group formed to oversee the implementation of exclusive breastfeeding policies and interventions in Ghana, was on Wednesday re-inaugurated.
The authority, which had become virtually dormant over the past few years, has been revived in the face of evolving challenges especially, with regards to the reduction of the exclusive breastfeeding rate from 63 per cent in 2003 to 46 per cent in 2011, as revealed by the 2011 Multiple Indicator Cluster survey.
Co-ordinator of the Breastfeeding Promotion Programme, Ms Eunice Sackey, who presented a brief history of the BFHI, said the current reduction in exclusive breastfeeding was an indication that the country might not attain some of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) if stringent measures were not taken to address the causes.
She said Ghana had been doing well in promoting exclusive breastfeeding until the past few years when the enforcing institutions and advocacy groups eased their usual vibrant activities.
She said the institution of the BFHI provided a way of educating, informing and communicating breastfeeding issues and also offered opportunities for improved health care in related maternal and child health facilities.
Ms Sackey said some interventions such as capacity building activities, advocacy, information, education and communication of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding practices, legislation, service delivery and existing strengthening partnerships would also be reinstituted as part of the programme.
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She mentioned that various health professionals had been taken through a number of courses to build their capacities in areas including lactation management and counselling.
She called on all stakeholders to join hands in the efforts to re-vitalise the campaign on exclusive breastfeeding in order to optimise its impact.
The National Child Health Coordinator, Ghana Health Service, Dr Isabella Sagoe-Moses, said breastfeeding had been identified as the single most effective strategy for child survival due to its numerous advantages both to the child and the mother.
She added that globally, the early initiation of breast feeding had been found to reduce child and neonatal mortality by 1.5 million deaths annually.
Dr Sagoe-Moses said the adoption of the International Code on marketing of breast milk substitutes by the World Health Assembly in 1981 and the launch of the Global BFHI in 1990 were efforts to address the downward trends in breastfeeding practices.
She said the absence of effective breastfeeding accounted for high infant morbidity and mortality rates but with the introduction of interventions such as the BFHI, Ghana recorded tremendous progress with the percentages rising from two per cent in 1992 to 63 per cent in 2003.
She attributed the achievements over the period to the numerous policies, strategies and commitment on the part of health service providers, mothers and the communities in which they resided.
She called for a critical scrutiny of what had accounted for the sharp drop in exclusive breastfeeding activities in the country, as well as the need to intensify advocacy for the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 183, which proposes at least, 14 weeks of maternity leave for lactating mothers who work in the formal sectors.