Conferences and Expos

Global Breastfeeding Initiative for Child Survival holds inaugural meeting in Al Ain


The inaugural meeting of the Global Breastfeeding Initiative for Child Survival was held in Al Ain in November last year, during which a group of world leaders on infant nutrition representing Africa, the Arab world, Asia, Latin America and Oceania gathered to discuss the pertinent issue of infant nutrition.

Patron of the event Her Highness Shamsa bint Suhail Al Mazrouei wife of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of UAE and Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, attended the meeting.

The global Breastfeeding Initiative for Child Survival (gBICS) is a worldwide civil society-driven initiative dedicated to improving infant health and development. The aim of gBICS is to accelerate progress in attaining the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially Goal 4, reduction of child mortality, by scaling up early, exclusive and continued breastfeeding. The MDGs have eight international development goals that United Nations member states and international organisations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015.

The International Baby Food Action Network Geneva (IBFAN) with its organisational partner the World Alliance for Breastfeeding (WABA), launched gBICS in October 2009 to inject new momentum into the existing efforts to achieve the healthrelated MDGs.

Allison Linnecar, International Coordinator of IBFAN-GIFA, said: “This is an international effort based on the power of people, firmly rooted in their communities, to mobilise public opinion to work with governments and press the baby food industry for changes in order to reduce rates of infant and maternal mortality.

“We are not only aiming to improve child survival, but also the quality of the lives of those babies who do survive, but find themselves surrounded by illness and malnutrition. Their lives are damaged by the consequences of poor feeding practices and they may never realise their full potential.”

Dr Khalid Iqbal, UAE IBFAN Arab World Coordinator, noted that there is compelling evidence to establish a link between breastfeeding and child survival. “UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million children worldwide die every year because they are not breastfed – this is one infant death every 30 seconds. Even in the industrialised world the link between non-breastfed babies and infant mortality has been shown to be high.”

2nd Regional Conference on Human Lactation

Following the gBICS meeting experts attending this event sat in on the 2nd Regional Conference on Human Lactation also held in Al Ain, UAE. The 2-day conference highlighted the importance of breastfeeding and aimed to strengthen the breastfeeding culture in the region.

Dr Gerhard Schwab, Medical Director of Al Ain Hospital said the conference provides “a platform to debate, demonstrate and discover solutions for the current challenges facing infant feeding practices in the region”.

Dr Iqbal said the conference, in collaboration with IBFAN, addressed various topics and updated information and practical skills that many healthcare professionals lack.

Dr Moza Ali Saleh Al Kuwaiti, Head of Family Medicine at Al Ain Hospital and Head of the Organizing Committee for the conference, said: “Breast milk is the optimal form of nutrition for infants and should be used exclusively for six months and continued up to 2 years of age with complimentary feeding.”

Increasing the prevalence of breastfeeding has been proven to deter childhood illnesses like diarrhoea, respiratory infections and a lot of other health problems.

Resources: UNICEF publications on Nutrition:  

Future generations in jeopardy – UNICEF

Approximately 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic maternal and childhood undernutrition, according to a UNICEF report released 11 November 2009 titled Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutritio’.

Undernutrition contributes to more than a third of all deaths in children under five. Undernutrition is often invisible until it is severe, and children who appear healthy may be at grave risk of serious and even permanent damage to their health and development.

Ann M. Veneman UNICEF Executive Director, said: “Undernutrition steals a child’s strength and makes illnesses that the body might otherwise fight off far more dangerous. More than one-third of children who die from pneumonia, diarrhoea and other illnesses could have survived had they not been undernourished.”

1,000 days

The 1,000 days from conception until a child’s second birthday are the most critical for a child’s development. Nutritional deficiencies during this critical period can reduce the ability to fight and survive disease, and can impair their social and mental capacities.

“Those who survive undernutrition often suffer poorer physical health throughout their lives, and damaged cognitive abilities that limit their capacity to learn and to earn a decent income,” said Veneman. “They become trapped in an intergenerational cycle of ill-health and poverty.”

Stunted growth is a consequence of longer-term poor nutrition in early childhood. Stunting is associated with developmental problems and is often impossible to correct. A child who is stunted is likely to experience a lifetime of poor health and underachievement, so the answer lies in prevention. More than 90% of the developing world’s stunted children live in Africa and Asia.

Inadequate nutrition also causes children to be underweight. Underweight children experience similar serious health and developmental problems, but these issues can be remedied if nutrition and health improve later in childhood.

Eliminating undernutrition

The good news is that reducing and even eliminating undernutrition is entirely feasible.

Of all the proven interventions, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months – together with nutritionally adequate foods from six months – can have a significant impact on child survival and stunting, potentially reducing the under five child mortality by 19% in developing countries. The report includes data showing that 16 developing countries successfully increased their exclusive breastfeeding rates by 20%, in periods ranging from seven to twelve years.

Huge strides have also been made in the delivery of cost-effective solutions to undernutrition, including micronutrients, to vulnerable populations worldwide.

For example, significant progress has been made in providing children with access to iodized salt and vitamin A supplements, and this has contributed to reduced infant and child mortality. In the world’s least developed countries, the percentage of children under five years receiving essential doses of vitamin A supplement has more than doubled, from 41% in 2000 to 88% in 2008.

While 90% of children who are stunted live in Asia and Africa, progress has been made on both continents. In Asia the prevalence of stunting dropped from about 44% in 1990 to an estimated 30% in 2008, while in Africa it fell from around 38% in 1990 to an estimated 34% in 2008.

“Global commitments on food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are part of a wider agenda that will help address the critical issues raised in this report,” said Veneman. “Unless attention is paid to addressing the causes of child and maternal undernutrition today, the costs will be considerably higher tomorrow.”

● Download the report report: Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition (PDF)

ate of upload: 26th Jan 2010

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