Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says the development of a National Infant and Young Child Feeding Policy will assist in reducing mortality and morbidity of infants and children by addressing their nutritional needs.
Speaking at a validation workshop for the policy at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on Thursday, March 6, Dr. Ferguson said it will also help to bring Jamaica closer to achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Four, which is a two thirds reduction in the under five mortality rate by 2015.
Currently, Jamaica’s infant mortality rate (0-1 year) stands at 20 per 1,000 live births, while the child (under five) mortality rate is 22 per 1,000 live births.
“In 2000, Jamaica’s child mortality rate stood at 24 per live births, which means that by virtue of our MDG commitment, we are required to achieve between nine and 10 per 1,000 live births by 2015. It is clear that we have much work ahead of us to get to where we need to be,” Dr. Ferguson stated.
“Every child has the potential for greatness and it is incumbent on us as adults to enable them to attain optimal health to provide the opportunity to achieve their full potential,” he said.
The draft policy seeks to create a sustainable environment that will contribute to a reduction in child morbidity and mortality and improvement in child health and nutrition.
It is guided by the recommendations set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, and is supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The WHO recommendations include: initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth; breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months; and thereafter, providing nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods; and continuing breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.
According to the Health Minister, development of the Infant and Young Child Feeding Policy is a mark of the Government’s commitment to improving the health of the nation, while fulfilling the country’s international obligations related to health and sustainable development.
He said it will also provide the operational framework needed to guide implementation of initiatives to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the population, starting with children.
He noted that NCDs, such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, account for over 60 per cent of deaths in Jamaica.
“They interfere with people’s capacity to work and provide for their families and are a cost burden for many, who are thrust further into the depths of poverty,” the Minister argued.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) estimates that about 130 million children worldwide are undernourished and this contributes to 53 per cent of deaths in young children, mostly in developing countries.
Under-nutrition in childhood results in diminished intellectual ability and a reduced capacity to work in adulthood.