Launch of Start Right, Feed Right, From Birth to 2 Years Breastfeeding Campaign

In observance of World Breastfeeding Week, Ghana Health Service, with support from partners, including the UN, launched a campaign to encourage breastfeeding.

Good afternoon,

It is a real pleasure and an honour to join you this afternoon for the official launch of the campaign ‘Start Right. Feed Right - from Birth to two years’ during this year’s World Breastfeeding Week.

Let me start by expressing the United Nations’ deepest appreciation to Her Excellency, the First Lady of the Republic of Ghana, Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo for her continued commitment to the health and wellbeing of children in Ghana and especially to this important issue of good nutrition for newborn and young children. The UN family recognizes your role as a Nutrition Champion of the African Leaders for Nutrition, thereby becoming a strong advocate for improving nutrition outcomes for Ghanaian children and women. Your work on ensuring the reduction of malaria and malnutrition in children and pregnant women is commendable.

As we observe Breastfeeding Week in these difficult times, it is only prudent to reiterate the benefits of breastmilk to safeguard the lives of our newborns.  I take this opportunity to congratulate the leadership within the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service for initiating this important campaign to promote this miracle food - breastmilk.

As we have heard today there are many reasons why the launch of this campaign is vital. Breastfeeding is undoubtedly one of nature’s most powerful life-saving gifts.  It provides antibodies that protect babies against many childhood illnesses and therefore has the ability to prevent premature mortality and to reduce the risk of maternal and child mortality. In the longer term, the magical ingredients of breastmilk prevent the risk of acquiring non-communicable diseases, including childhood asthma, obesity, diabetes and heart related diseases. In fact, the World Health Organization has confirmed that the benefits of breastmilk to mother and child far outweigh any risk from the new coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond the health benefits, breastfeeding has some economic benefits to families in a way that can help address disparities and inequities. For instance, the prevention of illnesses as a result of breastfeeding can enable families to reduce out of pocket expenditures to treat illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia. When a population with limited access to health systems and infrastructure relies on breastfeeding, it lessens inequities in access to health services.  Recent Research by one of our partners ‘Alive and Thrive’ quantified the benefits of breastfeeding in different countries.  For Ghana, optimal breastfeeding can:

  • Prevent 3,774 deaths of babies each year;
  • Prevent 302 maternal deaths from cancers and type II diabetes;
  • Save Ghana over US$ 5.8 million – money which is spent in healthcare costs; and 
  • Generate more than US$ 594 million for the economy, which is nearly 1.5% of Ghana’s gross net income through having a healthier population.

In addition, breastmilk is a natural and renewable food. Breastmilk is neither packaged nor shipped, and it is never cooked; it is environmentally friendly.

Regrettably, despite the wonders of breastfeeding, we are informed that only half of Ghana’s children (52 percent) are put to the breast in the first hour of life. In addition, sadly, exclusive breastfeeding rates for children less than six months are declining (43 percent).

We need to tap into the benefits of breastfeeding and make it sustainable for the sake of our children. The benefits of breastmilk must therefore be championed by all – every policy maker, every health service provider, every employer, every business, every community, every family. To ensure that no child is left behind and deprived of breastfeeding, its promotion must be our shared vision and responsibility.

I would like to thank my colleagues from UNICEF, WFP, FAO and the World Health Organization for their support to the Government of Ghana in this vital area of work.  Every child deserves a great start in life and the United Nations will continue to support the Government of Ghana in its endeavours to enable every new mother the chance to breastfeed her child.

There are two critical areas we need to consider making breastfeeding safe: national legislation and the provision of an enabling environment for nursing mothers. 

First of all, the enforcement of national legislation and restrictions to aggressive marketing of products that undermine breastfeeding will protect mothers and children from the influx of harmful products.

Studies have shown that breast milk powder substitutes can be dangerous to the health of babies. There cannot be substitutes for breastmilk which is natural and helps build babies’ immunities.

Secondly, we encourage the public and private sector in Ghana to expand paid family leave and increase the number of workplace breastfeeding policies for all new mothers working in the formal and informal sectors.  This cannot be achieved without engaging with the business sector and social insurance schemes to enact family-friendly policies in line with the International Labour Organization’s maternity protection guidelines.

For us to achieve these two critical goals, we also need increased public funding to support overall nutrition programmes. Achieving the global 2025 World Health Assembly targets and the UN Sustainable Development Goals pertaining to nutrition, requires an increase in investment in nutrition. The national Budget preparation for 2021-2024  and the upcoming Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2021 offer two great opportunities to ensure investment in nutrition is increased.  These two opportunities give us a chance to ignite a national call for increased financial investments that support breastfeeding efforts and stimulate all actors in Ghana to significantly scale up strategies that support adequate nutrition for young children.

The campaign we are launching today –‘START RIGHT. FEED RIGHT – from birth to the first two years’- is an exciting opportunity to mobilize all key actors at the national and regional levels. Efforts and commitment by all stakeholders including families, communities, government, businesses, development partners, civil society, academia, research institutions and the media are imperative.  We can all play a critical role and be champions at home, in our offices, in our businesses or communities to spread the word that babies less than six months need breastmilk only, on demand (day and night).

The UN in Ghana, led by UNICEF, WHO, FAO and WFP, will continue to partner with you in this important journey.

Finally, we appreciate the donors for their continued support to UNICEF’s early childhood nutrition outcomes. We will count on everyone of you for your immense support in advancing this campaign.  I would like to specifically thank, the Government of Japan, Government of Netherlands, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UNICEF Italian Natcom.

Let’s all jointly make a difference for Ghanaian children and the whole nation. Let’s leave no child behind.  

Thank you.

 

Speech by
Author
Charles Abani
UN Resident Coordinator
UN
Charles Abani
UN entities involved in this initiative
FAO
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
UNICEF
United Nations Children’s Fund
WFP
World Food Programme
WHO
World Health Organization