Bihar, 01 September 2008: A state-wide campaign to promote early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding was launched amidst much fanfare in Patna, the capital of the Bihar state, during the World Breastfeeding Week.
Unveiling the campaign, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said: “Many women in our state do not understand the full importance of breastfeeding. This campaign will not be a mere ritual, but will start from state-level and go down to grassroot level.” Ministers and senior officials from the state government, UNICEF and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Norway, a major donor nation, were among the important dignitaries at the launch.
Addressing a gathering of thousands of women, the Chief Minister reaffirmed the government’s commitment to work with partners to ensure that women receive the necessary knowledge to give their children the right start in life.
UNICEF Deputy Country Representative Kunihiko Chris Hirabayashi emphasized that with 25 per cent of all infant deaths across the world occurring in India, the country accounts for the single highest share globally. “The world will not be able to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals unless the scenario changes rapidly in India,” he said, adding “We are happy that Bihar has made rapid advances in the development sector over the last couple of years and welcome the new initiatives.”
“We are confident that the successful implementation of this campaign will reduce the number of infant deaths in the state by about 20 percent. I call upon UNICEF to continue providing technical support and carry out monitoring and evaluation of this programme,” Bihar Health Minister Nand Kishore Yadav added.
A historically backward state, Bihar contributes about 9.9 percent to the national burden of infant deaths in India with 158,000 infant deaths occurring annually. Malnutrition in Bihar is also a serious concern with more than half the children below three years found to be underweight according to a nationwide survey done in 2005-06.
Effective implementation of the campaign for promotion of breastfeeding is expected to have a positive impact on child survival and development indicators of the State. According to the reputed medical journal Lancet, optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices can prevent about 20 percent of child deaths in India. Breast milk stimulates the immune system of babies, contains hundreds of life-enhancing molecules, protects babies from diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. Additionally, early and exclusive breastfeeding of a child for the first six-months is proven to be beneficial for mothers.
Although breastfeeding is widely practiced in Bihar, the percentages of early and exclusive breastfeeding for six-months are dismally low. This is primarily due to the very low female literacy rate in the state and rampant myths and misconceptions. According to Government of Bihar’s Coverage Evaluation Survey, 2008, only 17 percent of babies in Bihar received breast milk within one hour after birth. Though this is an improvement over the 2005-06 figures of 3.7 percent, it is far below the national average.
The objective of the breastfeeding promotion campaign is to increase the percentage of women practicing early initiation of breastfeeding to 60 percent, and exclusive breastfeeding to 40 percent by the end year 2009.
“Given the low media penetration and female literacy rates in the State, the breastfeeding promotion campaign will rely largely on counseling of mothers and other decision-makers for achieving the objectives,” explained UNICEF State Representative Bijaya Rajbhandari.
Frontline health and child development functionaries have been identified as an important target group for capacity building to carry out effective inter-personal communication with mothers as well as at house-hold and community level. Capacity building will be done through a cascade mode of training, facilitated by UNICEF across the State.