Message of support by SACSoWACH Patron
It is a special honour today to be part of this special team here in Kalafong Hospital to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week 2019.
The dialogues that have been organised to mark this occasion underscore the fundamental principle that both women and men have important roles to play in promoting breastfeeding and child care in general. Parenting should be a shared responsibility, and both men and women should have an equal interest in the health, development and well-being of children. It is an honour also to represent the SACSoWACH Coalition, which is a civil society body promoting women’s, adolescents’ and children’s health.
In line with this year’s theme – ‘Empower parents: Enable breastfeeding’ – SACSoWACH has worked with the departments of Health, Labour and Employment, and Social Development to raise awareness and bring attention to mothers’ rights to breastfeed their infants anywhere, any time. We have worked to increase public awareness of issues such as the need to strengthen breastfeeding support for women in the workplace. This is essential not only to ensure that children of working mothers receive the nutritional and developmental benefits of breastmilk, but also to empower women and advance gender equity in the workplace.
For too long, the responsibility of raising children has been disproportionately borne by women, severely limiting their ability to participate in the mainstream of the economy. Women should not have to make a choice between work and the well being of their children. We have also supported efforts to promote and support breastfeeding in public places, affirming that breastfeeding is a natural, vital and socially desirable activity. We have also monitored compliance with Regulation R991 on foodstuffs for infants and young children, which protects the public from inappropriate marketing of infant formula.
We are progressively seeing the fruits of our collective efforts. The 2016 South African Demographic Health Survey has reported a significant improvement in breastfeeding rates, especially exclusive breastfeeding for infants up to 6 months. Nearly a third of infants under six months of age are exclusively breast fed. We are pleased to see that government’s efforts like MomConnect and the Side-by-Side campaign have expanded significantly and are reaching mothers no matter where they may live.
Our coalition of 28 organisations have signed a civil society pledge, which includes a commitment to sustained joint campaigning and advocacy for the realization of health rights of newborns, children, adolescents, women and mothers. Breastfeeding plays a significant role in contributing to the optimal health and development of a child, providing each child with the best and healthiest start to life. The breastfeeding policy review conducted last year by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development reported that South Africa’s Mother-Baby Friendly Initiative and the regulations to protect inappropriate marketing of infant formula have had a sustained impact on initiation of breastfeeding and breastfeeding within the first few weeks of life.
Now our challenge is to extend support to mothers in their homes, workplaces and communities to support exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months and continued breastfeeding to 2 years. According to global evidence, where breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported, women are two and a half times more likely to breastfeed. If South Africa is to reach the 2025 UN target of an exclusive breastfeeding rate of 50% for the first six months of life, we need to empower and support breastfeeding women in our communities. We need to become a breastfeeding-friendly society and nation.
We acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of our breastfeeding mothers and call on our health professionals and community health workers to continue to be a source of support. Let’s empower our parents and support our mothers to breastfeed their infants, to donate to our human milk banks and to save our children’s lives. I wish to congratulate Save the Children on the celebration of its centenary. This global organisation continues to be a vocal, active and supportive partner in our shared effort to give our children the best start in life.
In conclusion allow me to thank all our partners and friends for supporting the breastfeeding efforts in South Africa.
I thank you.