World Breastfeeding Week is commemorated worldwide in the first week of August to emphasize the importance of regular breastfeeding for babies and to encourage and support breastfeeding. The week also marks the anniversary of the Innocenti Declaration – the UN declaration on breastfeeding that was made on August 1, 1990. World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually across 170 countries through different activities, forums, and outreach campaigns. This year in Ethiopia, the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and other partners commemorated the day in Debre Berhan Town, focusing on the importance of breastfeeding, particularly in emergency settings, considering the ongoing dynamics in the country.
As part of the commemorative event, participants visited Woinshet Camp in Debreberhan, which houses more than 25,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). At the camp, the importance of breastfeeding and the devotion of mothers to breastfeed their babies even in difficult situations, was evident as mothers with young babies were seen breastfeeding their children.
Under this year's theme, "Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and Support", Dr Meseret Zelalem, Director of Maternal and Child Health at Ministry of Health Ethiopia, said, "Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother can give to her child as breastmilk has the right combination of essential nutrients for physical and mental development as well as protective antibodies that a baby needs."
Over the years, Ethiopia has experienced several natural disasters and human-made emergencies such as drought, floods, locust invasions, and conflict, resulting in damage to crops and livestock as well as internal displacement.
Breastfeeding is significantly compromised during such emergencies. Families are forced to leave their homes and exposed to devastating food insecurity, poor sanitation, and disruptions of basic services. At such times, the health and life of infants and children is at greater risk from malnutrition and disease outbreaks, as displacement limits the ability of communities to practice proper infant and young child feeding and impedes on their access to essential health and nutrition services. To address this, WHO collaborated with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to develop Guideline for Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies for Ethiopia. Breastfeeding has been highlighted in the document as one of the actions to ensure young child and infant nutrition.
As stated in the WHO-UNICEF joint statement for World Breastfeeding Week 2022, globally, fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first 6 months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50% by 2025.
Cognizant of the importance of protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding for the survival, growth and development of millions of infants, WHO and UNICEF, in the joint statement, called on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts to:
- prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts;
- equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed;
- protect caregivers and health-care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings; and
- implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space and support they need to breastfeed.