Islamabad - Deploring Pakistan’s highest bottle-feeding rate in South Asia, the speakers at a breastfeeding advocacy seminar called for strict implementation on legislation ordinance on breastfeeding and marketing code.

Every year the world breastfeeding week is celebrated globally in the first week of August.

However, due to the unstable political situation in the capital city because of sit-ins of Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the event had to be postponed till Friday.

Benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond basic nutrition as it not only protects against infections like pneumonia and diarrhoea but also raises the IQ of children. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week’s theme “Breastfeeding: A winning goal for Life” responds to the current Millennium Development Goal (MDG) countdown process by asserting the importance of increasing and sustaining the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding in the post 2015 agenda.

The Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Research Network (MNCHRN) and South Asian Infant Feeding Research Network (SAIFRN)-Pakistan in collaboration with UNICEF conducted an advocacy seminar in Children Hospital, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), which was attended by a variety of stakeholders including renowned paediatricians and other health professionals from the twin cities, NGOs, development partners and media.

Professor Dr Tabish Hazir, the head of paediatric medicine in Children Hospital and the Principal Investigator of MNCHRN and SAIFRN Pakistan, gave an overview of breastfeeding in Pakistan by comparing the indicators measured in Demographic Health Survey  (DHS) 2006-07 with those measured in 2012-13 and other South Asian countries. Worryingly it showed that the major breastfeeding indicators remained almost the same between the two DHSs and was amongst the worst in South Asia. The exclusive breastfeeding rate rose from 37.1 per cent in DHS 2006-07 to just 37.7 per cent in DHS 2012-13. Exclusive breastfeeding rates in Pakistan are undesirably low and need to be improved, he emphasised. Exclusive breastfeeding defined as only breastfeeding and no additional food, water or other fluids for first six months of life.

He said that although as many as nine policies/ strategies/ programmes regarding breastfeeding (directly or directly) have been passed between 2007 and 2012 yet the state remains the same. A cross countries comparison of exclusive breastfeeding show that Siri Lanka has the highest percentage of breastfeeding with 76 percent, followed by Nepal 70 percent, Bangladesh 64 percent, India 46 percent and Pakistan 38 percent.

He stated that some of the major issues was the lack of ownership of these policies, issues of sustainability as most of the programmes are donor funded, issues of duplication of information and a clear onus of responsibility for implementation in various policies, lack of detailed information on how objectives are to be met, lack of multi-sectoral collaboration, ineffective advocacy and weak component of behaviour change communication. He recommended that in order to improve the current state these issues have to be handled.

Saeed Qadir, Nutrition Officer, UNICEF, said with respect to future plans the development of national infant and young child feeding guidelines are in the agenda.

Dr Baseer Achakzai, Director Technical represented the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination and concluded the session by highlighting the importance of extensive collaborations and interventions to improve the current state.