LAGOS – Nigeria is still behind the global target of 50 per cent in exclusive breastfeeding despite recording 29 per cent, the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2018) new report has revealed.
The development is worrisome to experts in view of many benefits of breast milk. World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that breast milk contains all of the nutrients needed by children during their first six months of life.
The United Nations health body recommends that children should be exclusively breastfed in the first six months of their life; that is, they should be given nothing, but breast milk.
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is known to improve the health, growth, and survival status of newborns (WHO 2003).
Among its benefits, exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk for many early-life illnesses, including diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
Nigeria, in tandem with international best practices recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life (Federal Ministry of Health 2005, 2014).
Reviewing the 2018 NDHS was Maureen Zubie-Okolo, United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF) Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, said that though exclusive breastfeeding among children aged zero to six months has increased since 2013, from 17 per cent to 29 per cent, it fell short of the 50 per cent target.
Zubie-Okolo spoke during a two-day workshop in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau and the Federal Ministry of Information, recently.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) has set a target to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 per cent by 2025. To coincide with the timeline of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the WHO has extended the targets for maternal, infant and child nutrition to 2030.
Zubie-Okolo, however, added that the percentage of children who had ever been breastfed was 97 per cent in between 2008 and 2018.
Commenting further on infant feeding, she said; “The percentage of children who started breastfeeding within one hour of birth has increased by nine percentage points since 2013, from 33 per cent to 42 per cent, while the percentage who started breastfeeding within one day has increased from 65 per cent to 82 per cent since 2008.”
Elaborating, the UNICEF Specialist said breast milk contains all the nutrients needed by children during their first six months of life, adding that it is recommended that children be exclusively breastfed in the first six months of their life; that is, they should be given nothing but breast milk.
She pointed out that exclusive breastfeeding prevents infections such as diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses and provides all of the nutrients an infant requires for optimal growth and development.
She said while the infant mortality reduced from 75 per cent deaths per 1000 live births to 67 deaths per 1000 live births, the number of neonatal deaths remained unchanged, meaning that there is a probability of a Nigerian newborn dying before the first birthday.
According to her, the 2018 NDHS revealed that under five mortality was 132 deaths per 1,000 live births, implying that more than one in eight children in Nigeria dies before their fifth birthday.
She also noted that though the survey showed that the under-five mortality rate decreased since 2008, from 157 deaths per 1,000 live births to 132 deaths per 1,000 live births, it is still high.
Similarly, she said, “There has been a slight reduction in infant mortality, from 75 to 67 deaths per 1,000 live births from 2008 to 2018. However, there has been no noticeable change in the neonatal mortality rate over the same period.”
The report also notes that childhood mortality in Nigeria remains high and that every year, an estimated one million Nigerian children die before their fifth birthday.
Based on that trend, Nigeria is one of five countries in the world with the highest number of under-five deaths.
Olumide Osanyinpeju, Deputy Director/Head, Child Rights Information Bureau who represented the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said; “Both Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) and Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) are survey initiatives designed to assist countries, Nigeria inclusive, in filling data gaps for monitoring human development in general and the situation of children and women in particular.
“These surveys have been instrumental in strengthening national statistics capacities, highlighting and filling gaps in quality data, monitoring and tracking progress toward national and international development goals like the SDGs and, in identifying emerging issues and disparities among groups in societies.