Food safety is the theme for this year’s World Health Day, celebrated on 7 April 2015. Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
“Food safety is not only about the food we eat, but also what we give our children. Babies will consume what we feed them, but it is our responsibility to know what is best for them,” says Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that foodborne and waterborne diseases kill an estimated 2 million people annually, including many children.
Consumption of unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, while intestinal infectious diseases are the leading underlying cause of death for post-neonatal babies (29 days – 11 months old) in South Africa.
Jordan raised concerns that while mothers are able to breastfeed, a lack of awareness means that many unknowingly implement unhealthy feeding practices. “New-born babies who are fed tea with sugar, watered-down pap or a mixture of sand and water will end up in hospital with severe intestinal problems. Unfortunately, this happens on a daily basis,” explains Jordan.
Financial constraints are often to blame for poor feeding choices. Cash-strapped parents who cannot afford to purchase a sufficient amount of formula milk reduce the portion size and dilute the mixture, contributing towards severe malnutrition. Even if sufficient formula is used, Jordan warns that limited access to basic utilities like clean water and electricity can hamper a baby’s health if they drink contaminated water from non-sterilised bottles.
Breastfeeding alleviates a financial burden on poverty-stricken communities. “There is no cost involved with breastmilk. Our bodies are naturally designed to supply the right food for our babies,” said Jordan who warns that once a mother decides to stop breastfeeding, she will not be able to resume at a later stage.
Jordan commended both public and private healthcare for their efforts to promote healthy and safe food choices amongst communities. “We are beginning to see the results from combined efforts to endorse breastfeeding; deaths of South African children under five-years old has halved between 2009 and 2013. This is encouraging, but in 2013 almost 26 000 babies died before they could reach their first birthday**; the number still remains way too high and more work needs to be done to save lives.”
Breastmilk donations are urgently required to feed premature babies in neonatal intensive care units to promote food safety for babies. The SABR coordinates the collection and distribution of donated breastmilk to hospitals across the country, providing a life-saving solution to the most vulnerable members of society. Last year 1689 babies received donated breastmilk from SABR.
To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by the SABR, including low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers and funding for the operation of the milk-banks, please visit www.sabr.org.za or call 011 482 1920 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.