Samoa exceeds breastfeeding targets

Samoa is one of only eight countries in the Asia Pacific region on track to meet or exceed its target for exclusively breastfeeding infants up to six months of age, a new report says.

Exclusive breastfeeding - a child receiving nothing but breastmilk for the first six months of their lives - is an essential part of optimal infant nutrition. And Samoa is on the right track, according to a report jointly written by United Nations agencies.

"Only eight countries are actually on track to meeting or [exceeding] the target in 2025: Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Solomon Islands, Viet Nam, Vanuatu and Samoa," the report reads.

"Exclusive breastfeeding is highest in countries in Southern Asia compared to South-Eastern and Eastern Asia where breastfeeding rates are lower and in some cases declining."

According to the report, some 75.9 per cent at of Samoan children continued breastfeeding at the age of one, putting them behind the Solomon Islands at 85.8 per cent and Papua New Guinea at 86.2 per cent.

Following the introduction of appropriate complementary foods at six months of age, breastfeeding continues to be an essential part of a healthy diet for young children.

Studies in developing countries show that continued and frequent breastfeeding is associated with greater extended growth and ensures child health through improved birth spacing achieved through delaying maternal fertility postpartum and reducing the child’s risk of morbidity and mortality," the report says.

And in an era of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report advises of the many benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweighing the potential risks of transmission and illness associated with COVID-19.

"There is no evidence so far that the virus transmits through breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact significantly reduce the risk of death in newborns and young infants and provide immediate and lifelong health and development advantages," the report says.

The report also noted the importance of stamping out anaemia as a public health priority in the region.

(Anaemia occurs when blood haemoglobin concentration falls below an established cut-off value, impairing the capacity to transport oxygen to body tissues.)

And while symptoms such as fatigue, reduced physical work capacity, and shortness of breath are common in all anaemic individuals, anaemia during pregnancy is further associated with low birth weight, premature birth, cognitive development setbacks and maternal and perinatal mortality.

For Samoa, 2016 data show that the trend in the prevalence of anaemia in women of reproductive age increased to above 30 per cent compared to slightly above 20 per cent in 2000. 

"Estimates of the anaemia situation among women of reproductive age in the Pacific are more positive, with no countries carrying a major public health burden, and most countries indicating a moderate burden," the report says.

The condition accounts for approximately 9 per cent of the global total disability burden from all conditions, the report says.

The trend in prevalence of anaemic children under five-years-old in Samoa stands a higher rate of above 40 per cent, also an increase from just above 30 per cent in 2000.

"Anaemia in children under five years of age continues to remain a public health challenge in many countries across Asia and the Pacific, despite significant improvements in anaemia status (more than 10 percentage points) in Bhutan, India, Iran, the Maldives, Nepal, the Philippines and Vanuatu," the report reads.

"Iron deficiency is the leading cause of nutritional anaemia, responsible for approximately 40 per cent of all anaemia in children."

With only ten years left to achieve the 2030 agenda, governments, development partners and communities are called to step up their work to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. 

The report was jointly compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (F.A.O.), World Health Organisation (W.H.O.), World Food Programme (W.F.P.) and the United Nations Children's Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.).


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