Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Church urged to help in breastfeeding campaign

A World Health Organization (WHO) official sought the help of the Catholic Church Tuesday night in promoting breastfeeding instead of highly advertised “milk substitutes."

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said WHO director for Western Pacific Dr. Shigeru Omi said the Church has an important role to play in this campaign.

“The Church is still very influential in many societies and it could help our advocacy," he said in a statement posted on the CBCP Web site.

He added the Church can use the resources and opportunities available to it to inform people about the advantages of breastfeeding.Omi said breastfeeding is “very, very effective in the health development of children not only biologically but also mentally (because) you develop the bond between mother and child."

He said the Church, through its priests and ministers, can inform everyone in their congregation that breastfeeding is the most effective intervention to promote the healthy development of children.

On the other hand, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) lamented very low government investment in health services.

Unicef regional health and nutrition adviser for East Asia and the Pacific Stephen Atwood said government investment in public health is the third lowest in East Asia and the Pacific region, behind Myanmar and Indonesia.He said that from the country’s national budget, “only 1% is allocated to health and 11% is allocated to education."

“We’re not asking that you take the money from education to give it to health. We’re asking that the allocation for social services be increased so that health gets a larger part of the over-all budgetary pie," he said.

WHO and Unicef recommend six months of exclusive breastfeeding for best infant growth, development and health, but most Filipina mothers breastfeed for less than 24 days on the average, according to the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey.

The survey also showed a significant reduction from 1.4 months noted in the 1998 survey.

It has been reported that the 16,000 child mortality per year in the Philippines is largely due to inappropriate feeding. Unicef said a formula-fed infant is 14.2 times more likely to die of diarrhea than a breastfed infant.

WHO said P430 million is spent yearly for hospitalization, health consultations and medicines for illnesses due to formula feeding.

On the other hand, Filipino families spend an estimated P21.5 billion a year for infant formula, which require clean water and fuel for sterilization.

But Unicef said that because of limited milk production in the Philippines, the country relies on milk imports to provide breastmilk substitutes.

NEDA said the country spent P20.5 billion or US $381 million on milk imports from January to November 2004.

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