Transcript of WHO podcast - 4 August 2008
The International AIDS Conference opens today in Mexico City. One focus of the conference will be the status of the pandemic in the Americas. World Breastfeeding Week raises awareness of the importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies. This year, the focus is particularly on supporting mothers to breastfeed successfully.
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 41.
In this episode, World Breastfeeding Week: Mother support - Going for gold; and International focus on HIV/AIDS in Mexico.
Globally, the HIV/AIDS pandemic remains the most serious infectious disease challenge to public health. Every day, more than 6800 people become infected with HIV and more than 5700 die, mostly because they have no access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services. So what is the world doing about this crisis?
On 3 August the International AIDS Conference will open in Mexico City. It will involve leaders and professionals working in the field of HIV/AIDS: scientists, researchers, and people living with HIV themselves. Dr Kevin de Cock, Director of the HIV/AIDS Department at the World Health Organization, will be attending. He came into the studio to talk about the conference and its expected outcomes.
Dr Kevin de Cock: The main issues that I think will be addressed are very important. Because it's the first time it is being held in this particular region strong attention on the problem of HIV/AIDS in the Americas and in the Caribbean. There will be important new information coming out. For example, there will be new estimates of rate of new infections with HIV from the United States. It's going to be published around the time of the conference and I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion: the United States, the most heavily affected country in the industrialized world.
But, obviously, there will be focus on the Caribbean, which, outside of Africa, actually has been the most heavily affected part of the world with more heterosexual HIV transmission than in any other region other than sub-Saharan Africa. But there will be many other issues discussed. There will be a lot of talk about HIV in men who have sex with men, which is a predominant route of transmission in the Americas. There will be a lot of talk of the social aspect around all of that: about homophobia, stigma and discrimination, and the importance of all of those as a barrier to effective HIV prevention.
A very topical issue that is being furiously debated is that of travel restrictions for HIV, i.e., limitation of movement of people living with HIV across international borders. And that will be, for sure, a topic of hot discussion. I think since the last conference one issue that has emerged in this complex health world is that of the health systems and the tensions between the need to strengthen health systems and the need to deliver specific services for specific diseases like TB, malaria, HIV. I am sure that will be a prominent topic as well. And a whole host of other things. So, no shortage of important matters to discuss.
Veronica Riemer: World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated in the first week of August every year, in over 120 countries around the world. The aim of World Breastfeeding Week is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which yields tremendous health benefits. It provides critical nutrients, protects from deadly diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, and fosters growth and development. Continued breastfeeding after six months, for up to two years of age or beyond, combined with safe and appropriate complementary feeding, is the optimal approach.
WHO actively promotes breastfeeding as the best start in life. The theme of World Breastfeeding Week this year is "Mother support: Going for the gold". Daisy Mafubelu, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health, talked to us.
Veronica Riemer: Can you explain the message behind this?
Daisy Mafubelu: The message is actually a double message. We are giving the first message, which is breastfeeding is the gold standard when it comes to infant feeding. And the second message is that mothers need to be supported in order to breastfeed. So we need to support families and the mothers to make sure that they can give their children the best start in life.
Veronica Riemer: Why is breastfeeding so important?
Daisy Mafubelu: Breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding - in other words, just giving breast milk to a child and nothing else in the first six months - is very important in the child's life. It gives a child essential elements that the child needs to grow, it gives the child a chance to improve its survival in life. It is safe because it comes directly from the breast into the child. It contains what we call antibodies, which help the child to fight diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. These two diseases can cost as much as a million lives. Unfortunately, we still find less than 40% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding their babies.
Veronica Riemer: Can you tell me why only one in three babies is breastfed?
Daisy Mafubelu: Mothers need support to breastfeed. And some of the mothers do not get that support, to even start breastfeeding. Sometimes, specially first baby, the mother might experience pain when she starts breastfeeding. And without the initial support, they immediately stop breastfeeding because it's so painful. Sometimes in case they feel the pain they decide to stop breastfeeding. So it's necessary for them to be supported in order for them to continue with breastfeeding.
The support is also needed in terms of health workers, especially the nurses and midwives that are supporting the mothers, so that they know how to counsel them, how to encourage them to continue breastfeed. If that happens, then they are able to provide the initial support to the mothers. Because it is not all the health workers are well trained to provide that kind of support to breastfeeding mothers.
Also, mothers need to be encouraged and be told that when you breastfeed your child, the child gets all the initial nourishment that they require. Otherwise they tend to think that if you give your child breast milk and not other types of food, your child is going to suffer undernourishment. So they rather not breastfeed and give other foods. But it is all about supporting the mother and giving the mother all the necessary information about the positive effects of breastfeeding.
Veronica Riemer: And, what is WHO doing to encourage more mothers to breastfeed their babies?
Daisy Mafubelu: WHO, together with UNICEF, has worked to give the necessary support to the health workers. We have also worked with UNICEF and other partners over the last 17 years to increase the number of baby-friendly institutions. These are institutions or hospitals that have trained breastfeeding counselors, who are available to new mothers. Because of this we have now more than 20 000 certified baby-friendly hospitals in 152 countries around the world that are providing support for mothers and babies.
Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening.
If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics do drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.