R32 Million Injection to Support and Encourage Breastfeeding in KZN
UKZN’s Centre for Rural Health and Department of Paediatrics in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has embarked on a three-year project to support and encourage exclusive breastfeeding in KZN.
The project, which will cost about R32 million, is being sponsored by KZN’s Department of Health (DoH) and the Elma Foundation and is titled: “KwaZulu-Natal Initiative for Breastfeeding Support (KIBS)”. The project ends in May, 2017.
Speaking at the project’s official launch during International Breastfeeding Week, the Director for Nutrition at the KZN DoH, Ms Lenore Spies, said the province had a high breastfeeding initiation rate while mothers of infants were still in hospital. However, their rate of continuation dropped once they were discharged, notwithstanding that exclusive breastfeeding had multiple benefits for both the infant and mother.
‘Mothers also need to know that their milk is not only valuable to their own baby. It can save the lives of other babies too,’ said Spies.
In South Africa, HIV and AIDS and childhood infections (most commonly lower respiratory infections and diarrhoea) are the major causes of child deaths, and responsible for the majority of childhood illness. Malnutrition remains an important underlying cause of child mortality.
Optimal nutrition during infancy and childhood is critical to ensure optimal child health, growth and development. It has been estimated that 830 000 newborn deaths could be prevented each year if all infants were given breastmilk in the first hour of life.
A child healthcare problem identification programme audit of child deaths in participating hospitals found that 60% of under-fives who died were underweight for age while one third were severely malnourished.
According to KZN’s Department of Health, in order to help babies achieve optimal growth, development and health; all infants should be exclusively breastfed for the child’s first six months.
The KIBS project aims to improve breastfeeding rates among the most vulnerable newborns in KZN by strengthening the provision of human milk banking to increase access to the milk for sick and small neonates by 2017. To achieve this, human milk banks will be set up in 11 regional hospitals.
The second objective of the project is to strengthen, support and promote breastfeeding in health institutions in a bid to increase early and exclusive breastfeeding within KwaZulu-Natal communities by March 2017. To achieve this, the DOH will create posts for 56 lactation advisors to support initiation of breastfeeding in all hospitals in KZN. The Department has already employed over 500 nutrition advisors based in every primary health care facility, and this project will mentor and up-skill these advisors by providing additional on-site support.
This project will also develop the skills of 228 community health facilitators to support community caregivers to improve breastfeeding at the household level.
The third objective is to increase acceptability of breastfeeding and human milk banking within KZN communities through community engagement and media messaging. A number of publicity drives promoting exclusive breastfeeding will be held in communities to create an awareness of its importance and relevance.
The fourth objective is to monitor and evaluate the effect of interventions to promote breastfeeding on infant feeding practices in KwaZulu-Natal. Main activities would involve establishing the rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 14 weeks before commencing and on completion of the project. In addition an evaluation will be conducted on the use of community caregivers, nutritional advisors and lactation advisors to support mothers to exclusively breastfeed during pregnancy, delivery, and the first six months of life.
Patrick and Shannon Kenny who attended the launch of the KIBS project with their one-year-old daughter said exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of baby Anna’s life had been vital. Not only did she receive the necessary nutritional benefits from the breast milk, but this option saved on not having to buy baby formula.
Guests also heard from Ms Nokukhanya Nzama – a breastfeeding counsellor at UKZN’s Paediatrics Department and former member of the Cato Manor Clinic’s breastfeeding group – who shared a moving testimonial of why donating breast milk to orphans and vulnerable children was the best gift a mother could give. ‘It’s something they can’t get from anywhere else,’ she said.
In line with the Tshwane Declaration of support for breastfeeding which was endorsed by the National Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi in 2011, it is the shared vision of UKZN and the KZN DoH to see breastfeeding promotion go hand-in-hand with human milk banks in the province.
UKZN’S global expert in breastfeeding, Professor Anna Coutsoudis, said in addition to thoroughly educating health care workers, communities and mothers, this goal should be achieved through communication and awareness campaigns across KZN.
According to the World Health Organization, breast milk is the natural first food for babies as it provides all the energy and nutrients the infant needs for the first six months of life and continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.
MaryAnn Francis and Lunga Memela