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Drought will lead to increased infant mortality

Monday, 19th March 2018

22 March is World Water Day, and this day has never been more important in the South African context. This week, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs minister, Zweli Mkhize, declared the drought and water crisis affec


ting parts of the country a national state of disaster.* Diarrhoeal disease linked to water crises is a leading cause of death in young children, accounting for 22% of the 10 million annual worldwide deaths of children under 5-years-old. Some of these deaths are directly linked to contaminated water but many are due to secondary contamination through water-borne diseases that reach children through formula milk.**

Drought increases the transmission of bacterial and viral infection through food and water borne processes. Due to their immature immune systems, and continued lack of water sanitation, diarrhoea continues to be the leading cause of death in infants and young children in South Africa. The South African Breastmilk Reserve is concerned that water restrictions will lead to people overlooking good hygiene practices in an attempt to save water. Containers and utensils used for mixing formula that are not properly cleaned can create a breeding ground for bacteria.


Another factor that contributes to the infant mortality rate is that millions of the country’s poorest people are struggling to access enough clean drinking water, while feeding an infant eight times a day on formula requires 24 litres of



clean water a day, and about 170 litres a week.*** In an attempt to reduce the impact of the drought, The Gateway Health Institute and the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) with support from SACSoWACH, have partnered to launch Dare2Care. This campaign aims to support children under five by helping prevent the spread of diarrheal disease through interventions that provides information and advocates smart feeding choices.


One such intervention, ‘Kits4Kids’, is a call to action to bring emergency relief to mothers, babies and all citizens affected by the drought in water-stressed provinces. In July, Kits4Kids will be distributing 20 000 care packs containing, critical information, sanitation and water purification kits to the Western Cape’s most needy.


“Breastmilk is a complete food offering immunity, and is also the eco-friendly sustainable choice that safeguards babies and the environment. Choosing not to breastfeed is no longer an option for mothers living in drought-stricken areas,” says Executive Director of the SABR, Stasha Jordan. “It is our responsibility as a society to ensure new-moms are educated on the benefits of breastfeeding,” says Jordan. “Together we can save the lives of thousands of infants from the drought, by encouraging and normalizing breastfeeding,” she concludes.


Breastmilk is an incredibly complex fluid that contains multiple ingredients and mechanisms to help prevent and fight diarrhoea. Breastmilk contains antibodies and ‘white cells’ that actively fight infection; glycans that act as ‘decoys’ for pathogens; oligosaccharides and lactose that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria, and components that work directly and indirectly to prevent illness.*



To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by children in affected areas contact including low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers and funding for the operation Dare2Campaign, please visit or call +27 011 482 1920 or e-mail:


List of references:

* Timeslive. 2018. 

** Why infant formula causes deaths due to diarrhoea. Karleen Gribble (2007)

*** Emergency preparedness for those who care for infants in developed country contexts, Gribble and Berry, International Breastfeeding Journal (2011)