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Breast is still the very best!

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A major global forum is being held in Penang to commemorate the landmark Innocenti Declaration of 1990, which set global targets to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

The Waba global quilt to celebrate the work of the worldwide movement to promote breast-feeding

“Breastfeeding is today the single most effective preventive intervention for improving the survival and health of children,” stresses the WHO Secretariat, as cited in the 2010 Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO – Regional office of the World Health Organisation) Technical Brief, ‘Early Initiation of Breastfeeding: the Key to Survival and Beyond’.

Twenty years ago, concerned government leaders, officials and health professionals came together in Florence, Italy, for the WHO/Unicef policy makers meeting to discuss ‘Breastfeeding in the 1990s’ and work out a ‘Global Initiative’ on this issue. The 1990 (and updated 2005) Innocenti Declaration, was adopted by key UN agencies WHO and Unicef member states, and has been a key strategy on improving health of infants and young children through optimal nutrition for the last two decades.

WABA is holding its Global Breastfeeding Partners Forum (GBPForum) to celebrate and revisit ‘Innocenti 20 Years”. This Forum commemorates the landmark Innocenti Declaration of 1990, which set global targets for all governments, authorities, agencies, and the global breastfeeding movement to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. The event opens on Sunday, 17 October and is followed by a two-day technical meeting on the topic: “Enabling Mothering: Keeping mothers and babies together”.

“Malaysia is honoured to hold this major conference on breastfeeding, the first of its kind in the country and to also celebrate 20 years of the work of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) based in Penang, Malaysia,” notes Professor Dato Anwar Fazal, Chairperson Emeritus of WABA, and Director of the Right Livelihood College based in Penang. “It will bring together the world’s leaders who are working on protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding worldwide. The conference will remind us that breastfeeding is the natural way, the ecological way, the economical way and the healthy way. And we need to do much more to ensure the practice of breastfeeding is the norm. The conference will brainstorm ideas for the future and develop a global agenda for action”.

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Sarah Amin, Executive Director of WABA, added that, “Malaysia was the third country in the world to have all its public hospitals ‘baby-friendly’. Yet, it is still lagging far behind in terms of low breastfeeding rates, and limited legislative and social support for working women. Rates of six months exclusive breastfeeding in Malaysia is less than 15 per cent when compared to the already low global average of over 30 per cent. We need a collective approach that is inclusive of government, civil society and the public.” Sarah Amin also stressed that breastfeeding advocacy must be gender sensitive, as breastfeeding is a gender issue.

WABA has therefore invited Chong Eng, Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam, and advisor of the Penang state government’s ‘Women, Family and Community Development Committee’, and founding chairperson of the Good Governance and Gender Equality Society (3Gs) initiative, to officiate the event recognising that breastfeeding is also a women’s issue. She will launch the ‘Global Breastfeeding Quilt’, which is a poignant and meaningful WABA project involving the world’s community in celebrating and commemorating the work of the global network in support of breastfeeding. Also present will be the Student Choir from the Arts Education Centre of USM.

“The Innocenti Declaration opened our eyes wider for advocacy action,” explains Siti Norjinah Moin, President of the Malaysian Breastfeeding Association, and Coordinator of the WABA Local Governance Task Force. She notes, “Before, with half opened eyes we only focussed on breastfeeding our babies and helping our family and friends with breastfeeding support. With the Innocenti Declaration as a policy guideline, we extended our breastfeeding work to translating policy into practice with the government, especially with the Ministry of Health and Ministry for Women and Family Development. We also extended our work for maternity protection at workplaces, we supported women’s unions’ calls for breastfeeding breaks, and pushed for longer paid maternity leave. Internationally, we are working with other countries, networking and sharing our innovative experiences”.

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And as noted by the PAHO/WHO technical document: “Early initiation of breastfeeding has benefits for survival and beyond. Breastfeeding promotes child survival, health, brain and motor development. While breastfeeding has lifelong benefits for both the mother and child, the risks of not breastfeeding are particularly pronounced early in life. Early initiation of breastfeeding, and exclusive breastfeeding, for the first six months of life prevent neonatal and infant deaths largely by reducing the risk of infectious diseases”.

“Malaysia has been the global hub of training of government, health professionals and civil society advocates on codes for protecting breastfeeding. And Malaysia is the incubator and global mobiliser for World Breastfeeding Week for two decades. We have much to be proud of since 1990, when Innocenti was adopted, but we still need to do more to protect, promote and support breastfeeding” stresses Dato’ Anwar Fazal.

The WABA Global Breastfeeding Partners Forum (GBPForum) is being organised by the WABA Global Secretariat in Penang; in collaboration with WABA Core international Partner organizations: The Academy for Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), La Leche League International (LLLI), and Wellstart International (WI). (See more at: http://www.waba.org.my/). It is taking place at the Bayview Beach Resort, Batu Ferringhi, Penang, Malaysia between October 17-19, 2010.

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