On a hot morning under the shade of several tall trees, HAS community health worker Stephanie Joseph kicked off another health post with an energizing education session. Earlier this month (August 5 – 11) was World Breastfeeding Week; in this spirit, all of our community health workers, who normally reach about 9,000 people per month with education sessions, focused their efforts on the importance of breastfeeding.
Stephanie began the lesson with a short review of the last health post’s session topic – malaria – then continued straightaway into the day’s subject: breastfeeding. “What is exclusive breastfeeding?” she began. One brave woman, Alina, stood up with her infant in her arms and confidently explained that it means feeding a baby only breast milk for the first six months of life, without supplementation of solid food or water. After her answer, all the women present gave her a warm round of applause – a supportive environment that embodies this year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme: Breastfeeding Support through peer counseling. As a member of the community in which she works, Stephanie and her fellow health workers are trusted sources of information and support.
The education and support continued as the women discussed a range of topics, repeating the most crucial information along the way. From discussing (and demonstrating!) proper breastfeeding technique, to the importance of colostrum – the first milk, which Stephanie calls “the first vaccine” because of the antibodies that it contains to protect children from illness throughout their lives – to the ways in which to phase a child into eating solid foods, the women participated in the process and learned from one another. As the education session wrapped up, the next phase of the clinic began: weighing children five and under and screening them for malnutrition.
Every month throughout HAS’ service area, breastfeeding education sessions are held to ensure that everyone gets the message: it is important for the child because of the tremendous immune system benefits derived; it is important for the mother to connect with her baby; it is important for the family because it is more economical to feed a child with breast milk than to buy food; and it is important for the community because for every healthy child, there is one less child at risk for serious illness or even death.
We are proud to say that our efforts are making a real difference: most women in our service area, like Alina and the rest of the women present last week, not only understand but practice the lessons spread by HAS healthcare professionals: over 93% of women in our service area have breastfed their children, and 88% practice immediate initiation of breastfeeding – compared to only 46% in Haiti as a whole!
This is a shining example of the ways in which HAS is collaborating with the women of the Lower Artibonite Valley to help them improve their health as well as the health of their entire communities. To keep this up, we rely on the help of supporters like you. Spread the word and follow our efforts on Facebook (www.facebook.com/hashaiti.org) and Twitter (@HASHaiti).”