THE recent report that the country los- es $21 billion annually or 4.1 percent of her gross national income to the failure to ensure Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) of Nigerian babies is worrisome.
Also damning is the revelation that more than five million newborns are deprived of essential nutrients and anti- bodies through lack of exclusive breast- feeding.
The failure to embrace exclusive breastfeeding by many Nigerian moth- ers denies millions of newborns the ben- efits of breast milk. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nutrition Specialist, Mrs. Ada Ezeogu, traced Nigeria’s losses to the failure to em- brace exclusive breastfeeding at a me- dia dialogue on breastfeeding organised by Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB), Federal Ministry of Informa- tion and Culture, and United Kingdom Department for International Develop- ment (DFID), in Ibadan, Oyo State.
The dialogue, according to the UNI- CEF Communication Specialist, Mr. Geoffrey Njoku, was aimed at partner- ing with the media to increase the rate of EBF in the country. It was also part of the activities to mark this year’s World Breastfeeding Week.
Ezeogu explained that the low cognitive development, low Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and health costs arising from inadequate breastfeeding led to $21 billion economic loss. She revealed that the low rate of Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) leads to 103,742 child deaths and robs 5.4 million children yearly of essential nutrition required for their proper development. The UNICEF expert also
said that delaying breastfeeding for two to 23 hours after birth increases the risk of a baby dying within 28 days of its birth by 40 percent. The failure to practise EBF also contributes to chronic malnutrition and the country’s population of 11 million malnourished children under the age of five.
Information from the 2014 National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHS) indicates that only 25 percent of children born in the country are exclusively breastfed from zero to six months of age. It also reveals that the country has increased its exclusive breast- feedingoverthepast10yearsfrom12percentto25percent. Comparatively,thereport said that Ghana and Nigeria had exclusive breastfeeding rates of 7.4 percent in 1994 but pointed out that by 2013, Ghana had moved up to 63 percent.
This UNICEF report on Nigeria is not impressive. The time to invest more resources in exclusive breastfeeding is now. The good news is that mother’s breast milk is still the best for a newborn. It is highly nutritious, readily available and comes at no cost. Nutri- tion experts attest that breast milk is the ideal nutrition for infants as it has an almost perfect mix of vitamins, protein and other nutrients that babies need. It is always at optimum temperature for babies. It is, indeed, sad that the high level of malnutrition among under-five children and the prevalent high infant mortality rate in the country are traceable to lack of exclusive breastfeeding. The fact that exclusive breastfeeding reduces child mortality by 13 percent shows that it is the best way to go, to prevent such deaths. In the 2013 Multiple Indicator Survey on exclusive breastfeeding which put the national EBF at 15 percent, Ekiti State came tops with over 45.0 percent. Osun had 40.0 percent; Lagos, 25.0 percent; Edo, 25.0 percent; Ogun, 15.0 percent; Delta, 10.0 percent, and Ondo, 10.0 percent.
The Federal, state and local governments should substantially increase their votes for campaigns on exclusive breastfeeding to meet the World Health Assembly’s target of increasing the percentage of children under the age of six months that are exclusively breastfed to at least 50 percent by 2025.
For Nigeria and other United Nations (UN) member-countries to meet this target, they must make additional provision of $4.70 for each newborn. Old and aspiring mothers should be taught the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding at maternity clinics of all health facilities in the country. The ongoing Federal Government sensitisation campaign on the benefits and imperative of exclusive breastfeeding should be intensified and sustained.