Kenya Celebrates Breastfeeding, Launches Policy Statement on Nutrition

The following pice was originally posted on MCHIP’s blog.

With so many benefits from breastfeeding, it’s no wonder that Kenya’s leaders are saying the breast is best—and not just for babies!

For infants, breast milk promotes survival, may improve intelligence, reduces the risk of obesity, and strengthens family ties. But in addition to benefiting babies’ health, breastfeeding has overall economic benefits, too. It saves time and money for families that could otherwise be used to treat sick children, and breastfeeding-friendly workplaces see reduced staff absenteeism, a more stable workforce, and improved staff morale.

These facts were shared by Kenya’s Public Health and Sanitation Minister Hon. Beth Mugo during a media breakfast on August 1st at the Panafric Hotel. The event officially launched the country’s World Breastfeeding Week, an annual global event during the first week of August that aims to focus and facilitate actions to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

Seated in the fore table from left: Lillian Mutea, USAID MCHIP AOTR; Dr. Annah Wamae, Head of the Department of Family Health; Dr. Muthoni Magu-Muriuki, MCHIP/Kenya Deputy Chief of Party; and Linda Beyer, UNICEF representative.

In a speech read on her behalf by Dr. Annah Wamae, Head of the Department of Family Health, Hon. Mugo noted with sadness that in the last three decades chronic malnutrition (stunting) has remained constantly high in Kenya. To improve the nutrition status of children and reduce stunting, health workers and families must focus on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from conception to 24 months.

Mothers who practice breastfeeding introduce themselves during the WBW media breakfast.

During the event, Winfred Anjili, an HIV-positive mother of four, exemplified the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life; all of her children are HIV-negative. “I followed the advice given during my antenatal clinic [visits] to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months,” she said, cuddling her youngest five-month old son, Shadrack. “As you can see, Shadrack is healthy and happy,” she said to cheers and claps from all present.

Winfred Anjili discusses the support she has received during prenatal care to ensure that her 5-month-old son, Shadrack, is exclusively breastfed.

Ruth Tiampati, USAID’s Nutrition Specialist, was pleased to be a part of the launch during which USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) joined other countries in celebrating the successes gained since the inception of the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding in 2002. Ms. Anjili is an example of one of those successes.

Ms. Tiampati noted that USAID/MCHIP is pleased to provide technical support to the Division of Nutrition to improve maternal and young child nutrition. She noted that the support included an offer to develop a strategic plan for acceleration of iron folic acid supplementation to pregnant women aimed at the prevention of anaemia, as well as the integration of nutrition messages into the established Oral Rehydration Therapy corners at health facilities.

“One of the key messages is for mothers to be encouraged to continue breastfeeding the child during and after diarrheal episodes and provide optimal foods for children above six months,” she emphasized.

Ruth Tiampati, USAID Nutrition Specialist, speaking during the WBW media breakfast.

The strategy has identified a clear need for optimal infant feeding practices in reducing malnutrition as well as poverty. It is based on a human rights approach and calls for the development of comprehensive national policies on infant and young child feeding. The strategy provides guidance on how to protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life, and how to continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond together with adequate, appropriate and indigenous complementary feeding starting from the age of six months.

The highlight of the breakfast was the official launch of the reviewed National Policy Statement on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition. The Policy outlines the guidelines that facilities offering maternal and child health services should follow to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and guidelines on infant feeding in the context of HIV.

Terry Wefwafwa, Head of the Division of Nutrition, stated that Kenya ranks second (after Malawi) among the African countries that have been assessed for the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi), with a score of 113 out of 150. The WBTi is a web-based toolkit for tracking, assessing and monitoring infant and young child feeding practices, policies and programmes worldwide. (To read the full Kenya report, click here.)

Faith Thuita from the University of Nairobi and PATH/Kenya also highlighted the importance of the community in ensuring that mothers get the support they need to breastfeed their babies. She noted the importance of taking time to understand the community’s culture and breastfeeding barriers, as well as involving grandmothers and men in the implementation of infant and child feeding strategies. “Their input is critical,” she concluded.

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