‘‘48% of Gambian children exclusively breastfed’’ -Health Minister

Sarjo Camara-Singateh

Minister Saffie Lowe-Ceesay said in the Gambia, 99% of young children are breastfed; that 52% are breastfed within an hour of birth and that 48% are exclusively-breastfed up to the time they are weaned. The Health Minister made these remarks at the 25th annual celebration of World Breastfeeding Day, as the Gambia joined the international community on 2nd August 2017, to celebrate the day at a local Hotel in the Senegambia area. The theme for this year’s celebration was: “Sustaining breastfeeding Together”

“It is recommended that children be put to the breast immediately within one hour after birth and that pre-lacteal feeding be discouraged”.

Minister Saffie Lowe Ceesay said according to 2016, Lancet report indicated improved breastfeeding practices, have the potential to save the lives of 823,000 children and 20,000 women a year and contribute significantly to long-term health. She noted, “Urgent steps are needed to coordinate global action to protect, promote and support breastfeeding”.

Minister Lowe Ceesay said it is interesting to note that there have been advances towards attaining the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) 14 week minimum standard for maternity leave by the government of The Gambia, which has successfully led to an approval of six (6) months maternity leave for working mothers.

She stated that parent- friendly workplace environments, are important to support working women practice optimal child feeding practices. Mr Lowe Ceesay said the ministry of health and social welfare had re-established its nutrition unit, which has shown the significance MoHSW attaches to nutrition related issues including breastfeeding.

“I am appealing to all including partners, families, communities, institutions and companies, to encourage and support all breastfeeding mothers attain early initiation of breastfeeding as well as the practice of exclusive breastfeeding”, the minister said.

On his part, the UNICEF Deputy Resident Representative, Mr Rupert J. Leighton, called for improved quality maternal care to be provided to new mothers together with breastfeeding support; increase access to skilled breastfeeding counselling in the health system; foster community networks that support women in breastfeeding; strengthen information systems to track progress towards the global goal of increasing breastfeeding and increase funding to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding.

Mr. Leighton said breastfeeding a child for the first six months of life, helps to provide babies with the healthiest start to life; that it acts as the child’s first vaccine by proving in antibodies and that it contributes to healthy growth and development, protecting children during their critical first two years and into later life. ‘

‘There is nothing else a baby needs for the first six months other than its mother’s milk. Breast feeding benefits mothers too as it decreases their risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and diabetes,’’ he said.  He continued: “Breastfeeding also fosters strong bonding between the mother and the child.”

He highlighted the numerous benefits that breastfeeding contributes to for both mothers and babies. Mr. Leighton said with breastfeeding, child nutrition is improved and child mortality reduced; that the risk of non-communicable disease is decreased and the child’s cognitive development and education is improved. “The truth is, breastfeeding leads to reduction in poverty, greater economic growth and fewer inequalities,” he said.

He emphasised that healthy babies mean a reduction of the burden of high health care costs.

Mr. Modou Cheyassin Phall, the Executive Director of National Nutrition Agency, (NaNA), indicated that breastfeeding is part of Gambia’s culture but that the only thing that is new, was the exclusive breastfeeding of the child.    Mr. Phall said that now, with engagement of communities, exclusive breastfeeding is a highly appreciated initiative.

He said the launching is another milestone in the history of public health and nutrition; that in most countries around world, breastfeeding is celebrated as a weeklong event. But that in the Gambia, a whole month is devoted to the celebration of the event so that after the launching, a nationwide sensitisation continues in the rest of the country.

The Deputy Director of Health Education and Promotion, Mr. Sanjally Trawally, said sustaining and promoting breastfeeding, is a collective responsibility.

Presentations were made on the nutrition situation in the Gambia, at the launching of the celebrations.