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UNICEF Highlights the Importance of Breastfeeding and Immunization for Brain Development

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has stressed the importance of antenatal and postnatal care for children in their first 1,000 days of life, noting that it intersects with their survival, development, protection and participation.

UNICEF, through the Chief of UNICEF Field Office Bauchi, Dr. Tushar Rane also noted that the physical development of the child is largely impacted in the first 1,000 days while delivering his speech tagged ‘What is First 1,000 Days?’

The UNICEF chief said this during a two-day media dialogue on the ‘First 1,000 Days of a Child’s Life’, organised by UNICEF Bauchi Field Office for participants drawn from Gombe, Taraba, Bauchi, Adamawa States and Abuja, held in Gombe State yesterday.

Rane stated that a woman’s nutrition during pregnancy, breastfeeding as well as baby’s nurturing care in the first two years is extremely important for a healthy future.

“The first 1,000 days of life is the time spanning between conception and a child’s second birthday which is an important period of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established.

“Maternal and child nutrition and health can determine the child’s ability to grow. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days causes irreversible damage to a child’s growing brain and body.

“The period of rapid brain growth and maturation is 80 percent by two years, and failure of growth during this period is associated with long-term consequences, which include schooling, productivity and income.

“Neuronal pathways develop most rapidly in the first 1,000 days; however, poor children are at great risk of malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of their lives.

“Stunting is associated with increased risk of cognitive impairment while gaps between the risk and poor in reading, language, and cognitive development emerge before primary school,” he said. Also, cognitive/linguistics delays accumulate early and last a lifetime, hence early life is a sensitive period for brain development.”

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The UNICEF chief said if a child is not properly breastfed or given the proper nutrition early, a case of stunting sets in which has potential consequences.

In a field visit to one the health facilities, Gombe Specialist hospital, where UNICEF has intervened to reduce child mortality, the Medical Director, Dr. Muazu Ishaq noted that there have been significant changes in enrollment of women for antenatal and postnatal services in the facility.

He said that his hospital has been educating and helping to modify health-seeking behaviour of mothers and caregivers to seek proper healthcare for their children instead of local vendors.

“We have people that have been trained to provide training for mothers. We showed them how important it is to pursue exclusive breastfeeding for the children. We also partner with development partners to provide support for caregivers and evaluate their activities from time to time to see whether they are complying with what they have learnt.

“To be honest, we have seen changes that have encouraged us to do more,” the hospital chief noted. Recently, we started by educating women to change their health-seeking behaviour because we discovered that mostly did everything at home with the help of local vendors.

“So we told them of the implications and encouraged them to seek proper healthcare for their children, not only when the situation is out of hand, but to ensure that they regularly visit the hospital for proper treatment of their children to ensure a healthy future for them, and honestly, the response has been massive.”

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A pregnant woman, Hafiniki Hussaini who was at the facility for antenatal care stated that she has “experienced peace” since she started began her antenatal at the facility and have “been tutored on a range of subjects about childcare that I previously had no knowledge about.”

A Health Specialist with UNICEF, Dr. Emmanuel Emedo said the idea of engaging the media on the ‘First 1,000 days of a child’s life’ is to enlighten the public on the need to reduce infant deaths by adhering to guidelines that help children achieve better health and developmental outcomes.

“The whole idea is enlighten the press on the challenges we are having in this zone (Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Adamawa States). These state are chosen because of the burden of infant deaths across the states.

“As we move towards the SDG goal of less than 12 deaths per 1,000 life births and less than 25 death of under 5 children per 1000 life births, we try to look at where we are. Although we have made some progress, there is still more work to be done.

“The challenges are broad; unemployment and poverty. Poverty is a major factor because there are people who are living in multidimensional poverty. There are still many households to be reached and we still don’t have adequate coverage across our facilities. So to leave no child behind, we will need every stakeholder on board to achieve it,” he said.

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