About the Iraq Response Program
As both Syria and Iraq continue to face the dire effects of prolonged regional conflict, increasing numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees are seeking shelter and safety within and outside of camps throughout Iraq. Mobilization from the humanitarian actors is understandably complicated by ongoing violence.
As a small grassroots organization Nurture Project International (NPI) has the potential to create programs that are adaptable and flexible within the response. NPI plans to focus its interventions in camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. It is anticipated based on previous data that nearly a quarter of the population in the camps where NPI is located is comprised of pregnant or lactating women (UNHCR and Department of Health camp profiles, REACH resource centre).
In Iraq NPI's primary focus is to build capacity in infant and young child feeding practices through a multi-sectoral approach. Our plan is to train local local health workers and community members so that they can provide adequate, appropriate, and accessible care to their communities. We also plan to work with other humanitarian actors and the Department of Health to build capacity of responders to identify lactation challenges and provide technical support in relactation, complementary feeding, and mothering in complex environments.
Breastmilk is the ideal food for human infants, as it provides all necessary nutrients for an infant’s first few months of life and continues to provide impressive nutritional benefit even during the early years of childhood. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life and continued breastfeeding with the introduction of complementary solid food for two or more years for all infants. This recommendation acknowledges both that breastmilk provides the best nutritional content for babies and also that the benefits of breastmilk continue well past a time when a child is breastfeeding, conferring defense against acute and later chronic illness.
By its very nature, breastmilk is able to transmit immunological support from mother to baby for both illnesses to which she has been previously exposed as well as for illnesses with which the baby will come into contact in the future. UNICEF goes so far as to call breastfeeding “the closest thing the world has to a magic bullet for infant survival”. Breastmilk provides “a reliable, sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food” that also prevents and treats illness.
The benefits of breastfeeding are even clearer in times of crisis. Food and water insecurity coupled with cramped, unsanitary living conditions make readily available, sterile breastmilk the best choice. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of diseases caused by poor nutrition, unclean water, and suboptimal sanitation. Additionally, breastmilk aids babies’ immature immune systems to fight potential pathogens. Reducing the risk of illness, especially diarrhea, is lifesaving in emergency situations. Breastfed infants fair better in emergencies than their formula-fed counterparts, providing strong support to why humanitarian aid organizations should support the provision of breastfeeding support during crisis situations.
Despite the research supporting the importance of breastfeeding in emergencies, formula is frequently distributed in these situations, often blanketly without any strategic forethought. The use of formula in emergencies not only eliminates protections of breastfeeding but also increases health risks. Without the funds and logistical support to supply each and every formula fed infant with a stockpile of formula, they face persistent food insecurity. As a result, when formula is scarce, watering down of formula becomes a serious problem among resources poor populations.
Formula misuse is also a serious problem because donations are often not written in the language spoken by the target population, making it harder for the user to understand how to prepare formula safely and effectively. Furthermore, in living conditions with no guaranteed access to clean water or the ability to properly sanitize bottles and teats, the possibility of diarrheal illness dramatically increases. As a result, infant survival is severely compromised for formula-fed infants with no access to breastmilk to combat diarrhea, compounded by the lack of access to appropriate and timely medical care.