Health Minister Zweli Mkhize assured South Africans on Tuesday that the coronavirus virus has not been found in breastmilk.
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Research evidence has shown that the virus is not transmitted through breastmilk or by giving breastmilk that has been expressed from a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, Mkhize said in a statement commemorating the World Breastfeeding Week which started on August 1.
"This year we continue to commemorate World Breastfeeding Week under the difficult challenge in dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic," said Mkhize.
He said there has been growing concern over the possible transmission of the COVID-19 virus through breastfeeding.
Under the current circumstances, families, mothers, caregivers and even some healthcare workers in particular are worried and asking many questions whether the coronavirus can be passed on through breastmilk and how can they protect themselves and their babies, said Mkhize.
Academic experts in South Africa have established a pregnancy register to evaluate potential harm to pregnant women and/or their babies caused by COVID-19 infection, according to Mkhize.
Excellent progress has been made in studying mothers and babies who have been affected by COVID-19 and the issue of breastfeeding in the context of COVID-19 came into sharp focus, Mkhize said.
Based on these studies, mothers who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are encouraged to continue breastfeeding while practicing good respiratory hygiene such as wearing a mask, washing hands frequently with soap, water or hand sanitizer, and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, said Mkhize.
A baby's immune system is not yet fully developed and requires the immune protection from breastmilk, he said.
This life-saving protection is more important than ever right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the minister.
World Breastfeeding Week remains an important strategy to reaffirm South Africa's commitment to protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding to improve the health, nutrition and development of babies, Mkhize said.
This year's theme is "Support breastfeeding for a healthier South Africa."
"I would therefore like to launch this year's World Breastfeeding Week in South Africa and call on everyone including partners, healthcare workers, employers and families to play their part in creating a conducive environment for mothers to breastfeed their babies for a healthier South Africa," Mkhize said. ■