Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) yesterday declared the National Referral Hospital in Honiara, a "Mother-and-Baby Friendly".

It is the first hospital in the Pacific to meet expanded standards for both mother and baby friendliness. Previous accreditations were limited to "baby-friendly" standards.

The award recognises hospitals that have established policies and practices encouraging maternal and child health. The core practice promoted is the protection of breastfeeding as the only source of food and fluid for the baby within the first six months of life. From six months onwards, complementary feeding should be given whilst breastfeeding up to two years.

"This is a big score for Solomon Islands. The National Referral Hospital supervises the delivery of up to 5,000 babies every year. We must ensure that every child is given the best start in life. There is no better way than for a baby to experience the immediate bonding with the mother and to be provided with all the nutrients necessary to ensure a proper foundation in life", said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Dr. Isiye Ndombi.

He added that "Breastfeeding is the precious gift of nature. It helps to prevent a number of diseases in childhood and later in life. It offers protection from infections, allergies and adult-life chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and cancer that rob the national budgets of billions of dollars."

"The economic savings of breastfeeding are critical not only for governments, but also for poor families who spend large parts of their incomes on infant formula," said Dr. Ndombi.

Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Dr Cedric Alependava, said that if proper breastfeeding is practiced and the mother-and-baby friendly steps are sustained and expanded, child mortality in Solomon Islands would come down.

"By doing this we're more likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4 - reducing child deaths) as we have noticed that most of the deaths occur in the early months of life," he added.

In thanking the hospital staff, the Honiara City Council Health Services and UNICEF, Dr. Alependava said that these collaborative "efforts to make the initiative a success shows that commitment, partnership and teamwork can achieve a lot for our health programmes."

Further to the certification of Taro, Gizo and Munda Hospitals in achieving Baby-Friendly status in 2010, the UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) Mother- and Baby Friendly-Hospital Initiative (MBFHI) has rolled out the initiative to the remaining seven hospitals in the Solomon Islands.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, launched in 1991, is an effort by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that all maternity facilities, become centers of breastfeeding support.

WHO and UNICEF expanded the criteria in 2009 to include nine steps that require a maternity unit to achieve mother-friendly labour and birthing practices and procedures. A maternity facility or hospital is designated 'Mother and Baby-friendly' when it does not accept free or low-cost breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles or teats, and has implemented 10 specific steps to support successful breastfeeding and safe birthing practices.
UNICEF Representative, Dr. Ndombi encouraged the Ministry that to protect breastfeeding, the government needs to maintain strong legislation against breast milk substitutes.

"Such substitutes should only be given on prescription in situations where the baby cannot be breastfed."

The certifications and awards were presented at an official ceremony by the Chief Executive Officer Dr. George Mainimu and the UNICEF Pacific Representative, Dr. Ndombi.