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Infant Mortality In Cameroon Linked To Poor Breastfeeding 

By Coretta Penn Achu

Cameroon joined the international community to celebrate the 18th edition of the World Breastfeeding Week, from August 1-17. it was celebrated under the theme: ‘Breastfeeding: a vital emergency response.’

During commemorative activities in Bafoussam, West Region, it was revealed that eight out of 10 children in Cameroon are not exclusively breastfed during the first six months. This is contrary to recommendations of the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. While statistics further prove that 29 percent of Cameroonian infants aged less than one die because of poor breastfeeding habits, health officials warn that if nothing is immediately done to remedy the situation, 128,000 infants will die by 2011.

It is against this backdrop that the World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year. This follows the national policy adopted in 1994 by the Ministry of Public Health for the promotion of breastfeeding in public and private sectors. Moreover, the national policy on Food and Nutrition adopted in 2006 throws more weight on the issue, as former Prime Minister, Ephraim Inoni, signed a decree regulating commercial practices linked to the nutrition of infants.

Mrs. Jacqueline Momo, a dietician at the Sub-department of Food and Nutrition in the West Regional Delegation of Public Health, revealed that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding (0-6 months) stands at 21 percent, compared to 1 percent in 1991, when the first edition of the day was being celebrated.

Accounting for the breast week celebration, Mrs. Momo said: ‘According to reports on the social and nutritional situation in the world in general and countries in particular, children’s sanitary conditions were degrading at an alarming speed.’

According to reports, the high morbidity and mortality rates linked to malnutrition and infections caused by the use of feeding bottles as well as the economic crisis have aggravated the already precarious situation. Thus, UNICEF and the WHO mobilised forces and came to the conclusion that infants have to be breastfed exclusively during the first six months after birth.

The Case For Breastfeeding

Mrs. Momo added that breastfeeding is very beneficial for both the infant and mother, thanks to its composition. The first milk that the infant receives at birth contains colostrums, made up of nutrients and water necessary for the baby’s wellbeing. It constitutes the baby’s first vaccine, according to her. It equally contains proteins, lactose, vitamins and mineral salts and water (87 percent), in quantity and quality sufficient enough for the infant’s growth.

She said breastfeeding strengthens the bond between the mother and her baby and helps to reduce the risk of breast cancer in the woman. The expert stressed that for the practice to be a success, mothers need to be encouraged especially by the family. According to her, breastfeeding should be carried out following three principles: breastfeeding the infant 30 minutes after birth, .giving it only breast milk till the age of six months and doing so each time the infant demands.

She however said this can cause some problems in the mother; notably swelling of the breasts, bleeding and abscesses, which can all be treated. She said that, this year, activities are geared toward the promotion of the advantages of breastfeeding as an emergency response, the need to protect and encourage the practice before and during emergency situations; informing mothers, communities, health workers, governments, humanitarian agencies and the media on ways of encouraging breastfeeding.

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