Breastfeeding is described as “an unparalleled source of nutrition for newborns and infants, no matter where they are born,” according to a global health expert. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 800,000 child deaths could be averted annually – the majority being children under 6 months – with optimal breastfeeding practices. Despite this, only 3 African countries are expected to meet the global breastfeeding goal.
The three countries are Guinea-Bissau, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. These 3 are singled out in a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. The study was published in Nature Medicine in advance of World Breastfeeding Week Aug 1-7.
According to the study, there has been progress in breastfeeding in Africa but there however remains vulnerable populations, especially those living in rural areas and in extreme poverty. The study found areas of persistent low prevalence in countries that have made progress overall.
Several countries, including Burundi, Rwanda, and parts of Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zambia were among the highest rates of exclusive breastfeeding levels in 2000 and 2017. Sudan had some of the “highest and most consistent rates of increase” toward the exclusive breastfeeding goal of WHO – prevalence by 2025 of at least 50% nationwide. Exclusive breastfeeding refers to mothers using only breast milk to feed their children for the first six months, with medications, oral rehydration salts, and vitamins as needed. According to experts, exclusive breastfeeding provides essential nutrition and can prevent infection and disease, particularly in areas without access to clean water.
The Global Burden of Disease, an annual comprehensive health study, attributed 169,000 child deaths to lack of breastfeeding in 2017, with more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa.