Zimbabwe joined many other countries over the past week in observing Breastfeeding Week amid calls for a baby-friendly hospital initiative to address the country’s relatively low rate of exclusive breastfeeding, currently at just 5.8 percent.
Over the next month the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, with local partners, will roll out a program to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months among various groups, in particular younger mothers who tend not to breastfeed.
UNICEF Country Nutrition Manager Fitsum Aseffa said UNICEF was working with the government to train and certify hospitals as baby-friendly. This involves hospital routines to support the best care of babies including the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding.
So far in Zimbabwe, three hospitals have been so certified under the new initiative.
Health Minister Henry Madzorera said health professionals and parents both play critical roles in achieving optimal infant and young child nutrition.
Breastfeeding will be important for Zimbabwe to achieve its first and fourth Millennium Development Goals - eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and reducing the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015, Dr. Madzorera said.
“It is against this background that the government is renewing efforts towards sustaining the Baby Friendly Hospitals Initiatives.”
Aseffa told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is vital to the survival, growth and proper development of children – even when mothers are HIV-positive.
HIV activist Martha Tholana hailed the campaign which will help young mothers understand the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.