International Breastfeeding Month, August, will last another few days. This month is all about increasing awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, and South Africa certainly took an important step in that by stopping to distribute free infant formula in state hospitals and clinics. The decision was designed to promote breastfeeding and to lower infant mortality.
The move does not mean that mothers and babies who truly need formula, for medical reasons, will no longer have free access to it though. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi explained to a summit on breastfeeding that formula would be available if doctors signed off on it. But, the government is concerned about declining rates of breastfeeding and decided that this was the right step to increase the number of babies who get their mother's milk.
Breastfeeding also offers benefits to breastfeeding moms, but that was not the focus of this strategy. The minister explained: "South Africa is one of only 12 countries in the world where infant mortality has been on the increase and as government we have committed ourselves to changing this unacceptable situation. Hence reducing child mortality is one of the most important priorities in our country and central to this is breastfeeding as a child survival strategy." He added that regulations would be created to enforce international regulations on the quality of breastmilk substitues.
And remember, South Africa is a country that is at the heart of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The minister of health also said that even HIV-positive mothers were encouraged to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, saying: "It is undeniable that breastfeeding is the very best way to nourish babies - there is, literally, no substitute for it." Perhaps that is a flaw in the country's new plans, because HIV can be transmitted through breastfeeding. However, promoting breastfeeding is certainly the most important in countries that struggle with poverty and development. Perhaps South Africa can be an example to other countries in this.