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Religious leaders back exclusive breastfeeding campaign, pledge to mobilise followers

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Some religious leaders in Kaduna State have expressed total support to exclusive breastfeeding campaign and pledged to continue mobilising their followers to embrace the practice.

Nigeria News Agency reports that the religious leaders made the commitment when officials of Alive and Thrive, an NGO, visited them in continuation of their assessment of the programme in Kaduna State.

They said they would continue to use the pulpit to encourage more women to engage in exclusive breastfeeding and supplementary diet for their children.

Rev. Sunday Waman, CAN chairman in Rigasa ward, Igabi Local Government and Imam Habib Mohammed, said they would continue to facilitate dialogue with their followers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of any child.

The two religious leaders assured the organisation that they would continue to propagate the message on complementary and appropriate feeding after six months of exclusive breastfeeding, which will go along way in helping the growth of the child.

They said it was important for husbands to always provide necessary nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

Both Waman and Mohammed said their summons on exclusive breastfeeding and good diet were usually backed by quotations from the Bible and Qur’an, and also focused on discouraging harmful cultural and traditional practices that have negative effects on the growth and development of children.

Also, a Fulani leader in Kangimi, Mohammed Kagimi, expressed appreciation to Alive and Thrive for making them know the importance of Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF).

He assured that parents in the community had embraced the practice and seeing positive results in the health status of their children.

“We are now applying it and it is giving us positive results. Presently there are no much cases of constant illness from our children.”

Kangimi, however, urged the organisation to sustain the enlightenment campaign, to ensure that those still sceptical about exclusive breastfeeding embrace it wholeheartedly.

“it is well received from our end; we have a culture as fulani people that when we see the benefits in a thing, everyone will accept it,” he said.

Mrs Victoria Alabi, a nurse at Jowako health centre, who is a stakeholder in the intervention being carried out by Alive and Thrive, explained that the organisation had helped health personnel at the clinic with more skills and deepened their knowledge on how to counsel mothers on exclusive breastfeeding.

According to her, children who are exclusively breastfed for six months and continue to receive breastmilk up to two years are largely immune to diarrhoea and pneumonia.

She added that exclusive breastfeeding provides greater protection against infectious and chronic diseases.

“Due to constant enlightenment of women during antenatal care the number has increased while more are adopting exclusive breastfeeding,” she said.

Alabi stressed that breast milk was the only source of water and nutrients that infants need for the first six month of life, adding that giving infants water before six months put them at risk of malnutrition and other illnesses.

The nurse called on mothers to promote and protect exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months.

“Adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to two years of age, is critical to enable all children to lead healthier and more productive lives and grow faster,” Alabi added.

According to her, the first step after a child came out of the womb was to be breastfed immediately.

“The first breast milk serves as the first immunization for the baby, it is the best food for the baby.”

Ramatu Haruna, Kaduna State Nutrition Officer, said the pilot program supported by the organisation was in Rido ward, Chikun LGA, before it was scaled up to eight wards and later 16 LGAs in the state.

She said that the intervention had scaled up exclusive breastfeeding practices in the state very significantly.

Haruna said that the intervention also helped in reducing malnutrition, as more women embrace exclusive breastfeeding and best nutrition products.

“Nutrition helps to create life time benefits for individuals, families and nation as well as healthier children.

“Alive and Thrive supported the establishment of the Kaduna state technical working groups for Infant and young children feeding, where they strengthen health services, record keeping to track enrollments and follow ups for women in the first 1,000 days.”

Other stakeholders including, Hauwa Abdullahi, Hajiya Nana Bappa and Suleiman Ishak expressed appreciation to the organisation for its support in reaching more women to embrace exclusive breastfeeding and other areas of health care.

Mr Seth Ibrahim, Principal Administrative Officer, Kaduna State Nutrition Action Plan (KADNAP) said the partnership with Alive and Thrive has brought succour to malnourished children through the IYCF.

He explained that as part of its intervention, the organisation had provided training to traditional and religious leaders to enable them mobilise the people to adopt IYCF.

Ibrahim said Alive and Thrive’s advocacy facilitated the adoption of six months maternity leave for nursing mothers, which was also pushed by wife of the governor, Ummi El-Rufai and was subsequently implemented by the state government.

He further said that the collaboration between Alive and Thrive and KADNAP helped to raise the number of pregnant women going for antenatal in areas the programme is being run from 9,000 in 2018 to 36,000 in 2019.

The official added that the pregnant women that attended food demostration to improve on the IYCF was about 36,400 in 2018 and up to 125,000 in 2019, which was a great improvement.

Edited By: Maharazu Ahmed

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