In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week, Dr. Hanifa Bachou, FANTA Project Manager in Uganda, explains why breastfeeding is important and what FANTA is doing to help strengthen the health and nutrition of vulnerable children and mothers within the country.
The theme this year for World Breastfeeding Week is “A Winning Goal for Life!” What does this mean to you?
Exclusively breastfeeding an infant for the first 6 months contributes to reducing child malnutrition, and for people living with HIV in Uganda and on antiretroviral drugs, reduces mother-to-child transmission of HIV. It is also the first natural immunization against common diseases and helps prevent child deaths. For the mother, breastfeeding additionally protects against early pregnancy in the first 6 months.
What challenge(s) do you see in Uganda related to breastfeeding?
Uganda faces three main challenges in regards to breastfeeding. For one, most work environments lack maternity and paternity leave time for employees in accordance with the Employment Act of 2006. Time and facilities for breastfeeding, expression of breast milk, and/or the preparation of replacement feeds are also lacking at work places.
Secondly, more adequate health facilities and stronger community assistance mechanisms are needed for breastfeeding mothers. Support, care, and follow-up services for pregnant women, mothers, and caretakers are a necessity in practicing optimal infant and young child feeding practices. Currently, less than 20 health facilities in Uganda are designated as “baby friendly.” With improved support and care procedures in place, mothers can safely and readily practice breastfeeding.
Lastly, while infant and young child feeding regulations are in place, a monitoring mechanism is lacking and enforcement of the practices needs to be strengthened to increase access to nutrition and counseling services for the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
How is FANTA helping to address these challenges and promote breastfeeding?
The project promotes and trains health care workers in optimal breastfeeding practices to improve maternal and child survival. Throughout Uganda, we have recently trained 101 health care trainers in nutrition and infant and young child feeding.
FANTA is also part of the Partnership for HIV-Free Survival, which is a six-country initiative to accelerate the implementation of national guidelines for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and infant feeding in the context of HIV. The objectives of the initiative are to: (1) achieve universal breastfeeding and improved nutrition of mother-child pairs and (2) ensure that all breastfed infants exposed to HIV are protected through antiretroviral drugs.
Finally, we help build the capacity of facility- and community-based health care providers in nutrition, assessment, counseling, and support (NACS), while also employing monitoring and evaluation methods to help ensure quality services.