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KINGSTON — The Ministry of Health is ramping up its campaign to not only have mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for up to six months, but also to encourage the entire family to support this critical process in the healthy growth and development of the nation’s children.

As part of fulfilling the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) mandate to educate and communicate, the Ministry last week launched the country’s first breastfeeding video, which explores breastfeeding benefits, and demonstrates how to feed, and safely express milk from the breast. The video was released under this year’s national breastfeeding week theme: ‘Talk to Me! Breastfeeding a 3D Experience’.

Speaking at the launch, which was held at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston, Director of Nutrition Services in the Ministry, Sharmaine Edwards, explained to the gathering of new mothers and health care stakeholders that the National Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme was one of several projects managed by the Nutrition Unit in the Health Promotion and Protection branch of the Ministry.

The programme is guided by the global recommendations set by the WHO and supported by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The recommendations are also outlined in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding. They include: initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth; breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months; thereafter provide nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods; and continuing breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.

“These recommendations, if followed, will ensure child survival, and promote optimal nutritional status, health and development for all children,” Mrs. Edwards noted.

The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding seeks to promote, protect and support appropriate infant and young child feeding, and addresses the needs of all children, including infants of mothers living with HIV, low-birth-weight infants and infants in emergency situations. The strategy specifies the responsibilities of governments, and international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders.

In keeping with the global recommendations for child nutrition, under the National Infant and Young Child Feeding programme, the Ministry has set, and is implementing five targets, Mrs. Edwards tells JIS News.

These include a policy and strategic plan, which involve the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes. “This component is actively being worked on, and we hope to submit our draft policy to Cabinet later this year. The international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes aims to ensure the proper use of breast milk substitutes, when they are necessary on the basis of adequate information, and appropriate marketing and distribution,” she explains.

The second target, which is the baby friendly hospital initiative, seeks to promote institutions that offer alternative services and child care, and is hinged on the 10 steps to successful breast feeding.

“Currently in Jamaica, 10 institutions have been certified as baby friendly. These were done between 1996 and 2001. Today, four new hospitals are being targeted for assessment, and 8 of the 10 previously certified are being prepared for reassessment,” Mrs. Edwards says.

Additionally, 450 clinical staff across 12 facilities have been trained, and self assessments have been conducted in 12 institutions, with team leaders identified. “The third component, which involves child growth and development, has seen the introduction and training in use of new child growth standards, which led to the introduction of the new child health and development passport,” the Director adds. Also, approximately 2,000 health care workers of all categories have been trained in monitoring child growth and development.

Mrs. Edwards tells JIS News that with this development, Jamaica can now report on exclusive breastfeeding at six months; breastfeeding up to one and two years of age, as well as the adequacy of the diets of the nation’s children, and the introduction of complementary food.

The fourth component (education and communication) has also seen an improvement, with the training of health care workers, and the sensitisation of over 2,000 caregivers across the island with a heavy focus on communication. National Breastfeeding Week, which was observed from September 18 to 24, forms part of this component. The education and communication drive has also seen the development of posters on proper breastfeeding and child care nutrition.

Additionally, exercise books for children, which have been launched, are also part of the thrust to get support for mothers to encourage breastfeeding more regularly.

The final component – monitoring and evaluation – is carried out through child health clinics, which are held weekly, and children who are found with nutrition deficits or challenges are referred for specialist care at nutrition clinics.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Edwards points out thatoperationalresearch is key in getting some of the answers needed to improve child care nutrition. For this, the Unit participates in special projects, such as its exclusive breastfeeding pilot project, which is sponsored by UNICEF.

This is being conducted in the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine, with the aim of increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates at six weeks, by at least five percentage points. “We have seen some very good benefits…also we hope to develop a model that can increase our (overall) exclusive breastfeeding rates,” she says. This pilot will be completed soon.

Another special project in being conducted in Kingston and St. Andrew, and St. Thomas, with 2,000 children and caregivers across eight health centres participating. “For this project, we are trying to improve our complementary feeding practices. We have also involved the extended family, by including a training session for grandparents and great grandparents,” Mrs. Edwards informs.

Underweight figures for children under three years old stood at 2.4 per cent in 2009, while for 2010, there was a marginal increase to 3.6 per cent. Children above normal rate moved from 6.9 to 6.8 per cent for those two years, respectively. In 2009, the exclusive breastfeeding rate at six weeks was 43.7 per cent, and in 2010, this increased to 47.8 per cent. However, the exclusive breastfeeding rate at threemonths registered at 33.7 per cent for 2009, but moved to 35.3 per cent for 2010.

“Infant and young child feeding is everybody’s business. There are lots of benefits to be gained. The programme resides in the Ministry of Health, but it requires the partnership of other sectors,” Mrs. Edwards emphasises.

The objectives of the Nutrition Unit are to: promote appropriate diet and healthy lifestyles, thereby minimising nutrient deficiencies or excesses; enforce policies, laws and regulations supportive of healthy eating and health care delivery; improve nutritional services and institutions offering maternity and child-health services; facilitate development of supportive environments outside of health; and strengthen food and nutrition surveillance.

 

By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter