Minister wants policies to force breast feeding

2011-08-22 13:07

There should be a general consensus on creating policies on breast feeding in South Africa, health minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi has said.

Speaking at a two-day breast-feeding summit in Centurion, Motsoaledi said the increasing child mortality in the country was “disturbing”.

“We need to reposition, protect and support breast feeding as a key child survival strategy in South Africa,” he said.

The country had a low prevalence of exclusive breast feeding at 8%, according to the 2003 Demographic and Health Survey.

Motsoaledi said this was caused by, among others, the “aggressive and deadly” promotion of infant formula milk and misconceptions that breast feeding was a sign of poverty.

He said this “propaganda” destroyed communities like skin lightening creams which were pushed onto black communities.

A “dramatic drop” in exclusive breast feeding rates was reported in the age group of four-six months, where only 1.5% of infants were exclusively breast fed.

Motsoaledi said this was one of the lowest rates in the world.

He quoted a survey by the Human Sciences Research Council which suggested that among infants zero to six months, 25.7% were reported to be exclusively breast fed while 51.3% were mixed fed.Solids and formula were being introduced far too early, he said.

Motsoaledi said the summit should thoroughly discuss why many women have neglected what was done religiously in the past and promoted culturally.

One way to ensure mothers revert back to breast feeding would be to obtain infant feeding formula on prescription from doctors under strict conditions, said Motsoaledi.

This was supported by paediatrics and child-health Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Hoosen Coovadia.

Coovadia said government needed to stop subsidising formula and encourage women to breast feed, whether they were HIV positive or not.

“Transmission of the disease is 1% ... it can’t get lower than that,” he said.

Coovadia shared Motsoaledi’s view that the working environment needed to change in favour of breast feeding.He further spoke about a need for childcare facilities and urged the health department to lead by example by being the first to implement.

The summit was attended by, among others, health officials, traditional leaders and healers, and members of UN agencies. It ends tomorrow. – Sapa

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