Sunday, June 25, 2017

Breastfeeding Dilemma

| Article posted on December - 1 - 2006

“Breastfeeding is best feeding,” so we are told. For many years we have lamented that, with the advent of baby formulas, women have stopped breastfeeding altogether. Particularly in the third world, where hunger and malnutrition are rampant, depriving the children of this most perfect food source has proven to be a disaster, resulting in even further malnutrition and its countless consequences. The international community fought long and hard to reverse this trend, tirelessly educating people in Africa and elsewhere that mother’s milk is superior to all else, and that to deprive their children of it, is to harm them. Then came AIDS.

The vast majority of children infected with the HIV virus obtain the disease from their mothers. This is called “vertical transmission” and generally happens close to or during delivery. However, some of the children are spared and, despite the fact that their mother might have AIDS, do not acquire the virus in this manner. They are, in fact, born, completely healthy. It is one of the twisted cruelties of this disease, then, that the virus is not only found in blood and semen, but also in mother’s milk, in high concentrations at that, so that the very thing a mother does to keep her baby alive may be exactly the thing that kills it.

Because of the AIDS epidemic and because of the fact that AIDS is threatening to swallow up the whole of Africa, our initial efforts to get women to breastfeed have since been replaced with no less fervent efforts to get them to stop– when we know or suspect that HIV is a factor. However, AIDS attaches a stigma to people, especially in Africa, where superstition and misinformation about HIV are abundant. People fear the disease as much as they fear being known to have it. Ironically, we have just managed to get across enough education so that not breastfeeding your child can now signal to an entire village that the mother has been infected with “the virus.” Consequently, instead of receiving help and compassion, mother and child may be cast out, their fate sealed.

Clearly, this is yet another, vast area in which work must be done. In order to remove the stigma, we must work towards HIV no longer being a death sentence, but rather a “chronic illness” as it is now viewed in our world. At the same time, we must continue in our struggle to erase it and to protect as many potential victims as possible. As always, education is key. We must warn people of the risks inherent in common, every day actions, such as being intimate with one’s spouse or breastfeeding one’s baby. Only those who truly know the enemy and how it may strike can truly defend themselves and those they love.

Africa’s children are precious. The future of the entire continent rests on their small shoulders. Let’s make them strong. Let’s keep them healthy. Let’s help them live.

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


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