(CPV) - On its 20th Anniversary, this year’s World Breastfeeding Week celebrates the government of Viet Nam’s commitment to ensuring a stronger enabling environment for breastfeeding and calls for joint action to promote breastfeeding and contribute to the reduction of child malnutrition.
“Maternal and child health is an area of concern for the Party, the government of Viet Nam and society. The health sector considers maternal and child health as one of its key focus areas and always adheres to the policies of the Party and the government to ensure implementation”, said Dr. Nguyen Viet Tien, Vice Minister of Ministry of Health. “The Ministry of Health is convinced that if exclusive breastfeeding as well as maternal and child health and nutrition are not improved, these will impact on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in Viet Nam”, he added.
“We all have a role in helping families make the best feeding decisions for their infants and young children. Government laws, workplace policies, and other social support systems impact these decisions, which can have lasting, irreversible impacts on a child’s future. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that all babies have the same opportunity for healthy nutrition from the very outset of life, so they have the best chance at a healthy and productive future”, said Mr. Jesper Moller, Acting Representative of UNICEF, on behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam, during the launching event in Ha Noi.
The recent adoption of two major laws that support optimal child feeding was applauded by the United Nations (UN), the Alive & Thrive initiative and partners. On June 18, the National Assembly voted in favor of extending maternity leave to six months; three days later, on June 21, the legislative body voted in favor of extending a ban on advertising breast milk substitute products for children from zero to 24 months, including feeding bottles and teats, as well as other nutrition products for children under six months of age.
Both pieces of legislation passed with the votes of over 90 per cent of National Assembly members.
“By voting for extension of maternity leave to six months, Viet Nam has become a leader in developing protective laws that safeguard the well-being of children and mothers. For employers and for Viet Nam, not breastfeeding exclusively results in increased health care costs and a less stable workforce. Stronger maternity leave policies create a more stable and loyal workforce. When mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding, it leads to healthier children and reduces the financial resources spent each year on addressing illnesses caused by poor infant and child feeding in Viet Nam”, Mr. Moller added.
Both policies represent huge advancements to protect the health of Viet Nam’s future generations. They also highlight opportunities for all actors to create a stronger environment for optimal child feeding. Poor breastfeeding practices contribute to high malnutrition rates among Vietnamese children, with merely one in five children under six months of age being exclusively breastfed.
The 2012 World Breastfeeding Week is co-organised by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and the Alive & Thrive initiative. Featuring the global theme “Breast milk today, Health tomorrow,” the Week builds awareness of the critical role that everyone—including policy makers, employers, health providers and families—plays in creating an environment that ensures all babies have the same opportunity for a healthy and productive future.
Over the last decade, exclusive breastfeeding rates in Viet Nam have plummeted – from 34 per cent in 1998 to 19.6 per cent in 2010. Lack of exclusive breastfeeding in Viet Nam is linked to serious nutrition issues - one in three children are too short for their age (stunted) and one in five are underweight. Millions of Vietnamese children suffer from debilitating illnesses (e.g. diarrhea, pneumonia) due to poor feeding practices. Also, there are other life-long impacts associated to the lack of exclusive breastfeeding including poor school performance, reduced productivity and impaired intellectual and social development.
“From day one, mothers need to be provided the space and support to breastfeed within the first hour of their newborn’s life,” said Nemat Hajeebhoy, Alive & Thrive Country Director. “Thereafter, they need continued support from their family and support network to breastfeed exclusively for six months, with continued breastfeeding through 24 months and beyond. ”
“The support from health workers at all levels is important to mothers in initiating and maintaining breastfeeding. Health workers should prescribe breast milk—and no other food or drink—for six full months. We should say no to formula in health facilities. Exclusive breastfeeding is the best feeding option for babies from the first day to the first six months of life”, said Dr. Ornella Lincetto, Maternal and Child Health team leader from WHO Viet Nam.
In order for recent policy advances to attain maximum impact on the lives of Vietnamese families, it is critical that they be fully implemented and supported at all levels. The UN and its partners, including Alive & Thrive, are committed to continuing support for the Vietnamese government to continue its work at the community level to disseminate information, develop the capacity of key stakeholders such as health workers and guarantee that all primary health care facilities provide skilled counseling and support for breastfeeding to ensure that all mothers have access to these services close to their homes.
“By voting these two laws, the government voted for Vietnamese children’s health. Let us continue joining hands to ensure these policies translate into concrete actions and results on the ground”, Mr. Moller concluded./.