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For Many Zimbabwean Mothers, HIV Status Discourages Breastfeeding

Zimbabwe and another 120 countries worldwide on Wednesday will start to observe Breastfeeding Week, launched in 1991 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding to underscore the importance of breast feeding to the health of children.

This year's organizers wanted to emphasize the importance of the first hour of feeding after birth, when the newborn receives colostrum, a vital substance that experts say is rich in antibodies that protect the infant from many common diseases.

However, many mothers in Zimbabwe who are HIV-positive have been advised not to breastfeed because of the risk they will transmit the AIDS virus to their infants.

VOA spoke with two experts about the challenges of breastfeeding in the midst of an AIDS pandemic: Executive Director Lynde Francis of The Center, a Harare HIV/AIDS treatment and support organization, and clinical immunologist Elopi Sibanda.

Dr. Sibanda told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that there is strong evidence breast milk can transmit the AIDS virus to an infant.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...