Date Published: 10 May 2007
WHO-UNICEF multi-country infant and young child feeding workshop in Damascus
Country action plans scaled up to improve infant and young child feeding practices
A four-day regional workshop initiated by WHO and UNICEF ended today with agreement to significantly scale-up efforts to improve infant and young child feeding practices in the Middle East and North Africa.The workshop was convened to address growing concern among public health experts over falling rates of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) and the relatively low proportion of Baby Friendly Hospitals (BFH) in the region.
Experts recommended the expansion of community-based educational and awareness-building, improvements in the monitoring and assessment of EBF and complementary feeding (CF) rates, particularly in Sudan, Yemen Djibouti and Egypt, building the capacity of health workers in these relevant areas and mainstreaming feeding interventions into major national health and development initiatives.
“ Nutrition remains the weakest link in our region as far as child survival is concerned and there is a need to revitalize the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) as well as to harmonize breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices”, said Dr. Mahendra Seth, UNICEF Health Regional Advisor.
Overall in the region, exclusive breastfeeding practices (EBP) for infants below six months of age are declining with a current overall rate of 32%. With the exceptions of Algeria, Oman, Sudan and Tunisia, most countries in the region have experienced falls in EBP rates or have failed to monitor breastfeeding rates.
“ In impoverished areas, a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than a child who is not breastfed,” said UNICEF infant feeding officer Moazzem Hossain,
“ In an effort to give children the best possible start to life and to ensure the MDG Child Survival Goal is met, UNICEF and WHO are working with new mothers around the world to ensure that their babies are properly fed.”
While the average implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in the region is below the global average, countries like Iran, Oman and Tunisia have set a formidable pace, with about 90% of their facilities being presently “Baby Friendly”. However, countries in the region face daunting challenges to the establishment of monitoring mechanisms that would ensure reliable data collection on Infant and Young child feeding.
“ With an EBF rate of about 29% in Syria, together with our partners our future focus will be on expanding the Baby friendly Hospital initiative, reinforcing national expertise on complementary feeding and reactivating the national code for Breast Milk Substitutes”, added Mohamed Anis Salem, UNICEF Syria Country Office Representative.
The workshop gathered representatives from Ministries of Health as well as WHO and UNICEF representatives from Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. The experts reviewed the status of infant feeding practices in the region and discussed more specifically key achievements and implementation challenges particularly in emergency situations.