KZN to promote ‘breast milk only’ policy

2010-12-03 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Health Department is to encourage all mothers — even those who are HIV-positive — to feed their babies only with breast milk for six months.

It will promote the practice under the infant and young child feeding (IYCF) policy, it announced yesterday.

KZN Health director of nutrition Lenore Spies said breast-feeding is the single most important intervention in child HIV transmission, if properly done.

She said the risks of not being breastfed are very high for children in areas where diarrhoea is rife, because of poor hygiene when using infant formula.

“Breast-feeding can reduce deaths of children under five by 13%,” said Spies.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) commended KZN for being the first province to actively promote the policy, recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Unicef spokesperson Shantha Bloemen said the new policy will provide counselling and support breastfeeding for HIV-positive mothers, while ensuring they continue to take anti-retrovirals (ARVs)

“This decision to keep mothers and infants on ARV therapy while they breastfeed will help to reduce the transmission of HIV yet make sure the child benefits from breast milk and reduce high rates of malnutrition,” Bloemen said.

Previously, HIV-positive mothers would be provided with formula to prevent the virus spreading through breast milk.

“Although this may have helped to reduce transmission rates, it has contributed to higher rates of malnutrition and diarrhoea, often caused by lack of safe water and poor infant feeding practices,” said Bloemen.

Spies said the overall aim of the new policy is to improve HIVfree survival of infants born to HIV-infected mothers.

Professor Anna Coustoudis of UKZN’s paediatrics and child health department said HIV transmission during breast-feeding is in any case over-estimated by many, including healthcare workers.

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