A country of hot summers and vast rural areas, Tajikistan has had to refine its approach to promoting breastfeeding and protecting the health of infants. WHO is highlighting the country’s experience during World Breastfeeding Week 2022 (August 1-7).
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“In our country, many mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding, but not for long. There is a decline in rates of exclusive breastfeeding of infants at 4-5 months of age. Heat waves could be one of the reasons, which of course can be difficult for parents of young children. During hot seasons, many parents tend to give their children water to drink, even though breast milk can effectively meet all the nutritional needs of a baby,” said Dr. Sherali Rakhmatulloev, a specialist in sector leader for childhood diseases in Tajikistan.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants for at least the first 6 months of life. There is strong evidence that exclusive breastfeeding will not only keep a baby well-nourished and happy, but will also protect against non-communicable diseases, reducing the risk of childhood obesity, diabetes and even certain types of cancer.
To get this message across and amplify its reach, the Tajik authorities are counting on health professionals.
In rural areas of Tajikistan, which represent more than 70% of the country’s population, the role of primary health care is particularly important. Here, health professionals can be the only source of health information and can bring about lasting positive change.
Mothers need more support
“Once the mother has returned home from maternity, she and her family need additional support. Of course, parents with young children consult their primary health care provider. Based on the advice they receive there, parents will know what is the best way to feed the baby,” added Dr. Rakhmatulloev.
He was one of the first doctors in Tajikistan to introduce the WHO-recommended practice of letting mothers stay with their babies in maternity wards and starting breastfeeding soon after birth. Today, it is standard practice in many hospitals across the country.
According to Dr. Rakhmatulloev, expanding health literacy and communicating the latest evidence-based information is key to introducing good health practices.
The WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases is supporting this work by organizing a series of workshops and consultations as part of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). IHAB’s activities aim to train the trainers and equip health professionals in Tajikistan with the right guidelines and other tools to promote exclusive breastfeeding as the best choice for the health of mothers and infants.
The best choice for mother and baby
With the help of primary healthcare professionals, fewer people in Tajikistan are relying on breastmilk substitutes and other infant food products that can have a harmful effect on the health of babies. Ten years ago, the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Tajikistan was around 24%. In 2017, it reached 36%. To further increase these rates, the country’s authorities are currently updating their national health strategy in line with the WHO European work program 2020-2025. The national goal is to reach a level of exclusive breastfeeding of 50% by 2025.
BFHI training programs enhance the implementation of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding recommended by WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).