When women traditional leaders from different parts of the country, adorned in beautiful regalia gather, the most likely reason is to grace a very important occasion, but this time that was not the case. Queen mothers from all over Ghana met under the canopy of the Family Health Division of the Ghana Health Service to share ideas on how to promote exclusive breastfeeding and good Maternal and Child nutrition in their traditional areas and beyond through the Nutrition Advocacy and Community Mobilization Initiative. This is an initiative launched by Her Excellency, Mrs Rebecca Akuffo Addo, the First Lady of the Republic of Ghana in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
In a country where there is a deep appreciation of cultural values and the important role community leaders play, queen mothers hold a special place in the lives of their constituents and are highly revered. They are the female counterparts of male traditional leaders known as Chiefs. Community members see a mother figure in their queen mothers, but especially for women and girls, they are the role model many of them aspire to be like. This makes them highly influential and a very useful channel for advocacy.
Ghana adopted the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1993 in response to increased disease burden especially incidence of diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory tract infections among infants and children, high rates of death among non-breastfed infants and poor infant growth. These were due to sub-optimal infant feeding practices in hospitals, communities and homes including Pre-lacteal feeding, discarding of colostrum, routine separation of babies from mothers, early introduction of home foods.
Activities implemented till date, as part of the response comprises of training of regional resource teams and code monitors, enactment, monitoring and revision of the Breastfeeding law (LI 1667), preparation / assessment and designation of facilities code monitoring, advocacy for support from corporate bodies for working women, training of skills and knowledge of health staff on Complementing Feeding Counselling of Caregivers.
This brought to light the need for increased awareness of the importance of breastfeeding
According to Madam Esi Foriwa Amoaful, Deputy Director for Nutrition at the Ghana Health Service, the progress made so far has among others, resulted in 634 facilities with maternity services being officially declared baby friendly. Breastfeeding activities are however, integrated into all health facilities across the country.
There is need for more work, which is why officials of the Ghana Health Service have taken a cross section of queen mothers and would-be advocates of breastfeeding through steps to improving breastfeeding counselling as well as breastfeeding messages for caregivers at home.
The queen mothers were also briefed on the regional indicators for breastfeeding where it came to light that the southern part of Ghana trailed behind in exclusive breastfeeding whereas the northern regions recorded high numbers of women who practice exclusive breastfeeding. This brought to light the need for increased awareness of the importance of breastfeeding.
The Ghana Health Service estimates that a little more than half (52%) of all babies born in Ghana are put to breast within the first hour of birth, however, only 43% of all babies under 6 months are exclusively breastfed.
Nana Amponsah Dokua III, Queen Mother, Osudoku Traditional Area said she was hopeful that the knowledge acquired would be beneficial to their community members as they would augment the effort been made by the district health officers.
The women traditional leaders have constituted themselves into the Queen Mothers Platform of Ghana as a formidable force to help champion developmental initiatives in the country.