Thursday, December 11, 2008

Destination: Heartbreak Hurricane Katrina, part 1

photo by Mariah McClain
How to begin a tale of trial and tribulation? Where does it start and when will it end? What do we believe to be true and how much of what we know is shrouded by the purveyor of reality, Tellyvision. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005 and the tidalwave of this storm is still flooding communities near and far from its initial impact. Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the USA. Prior to Hurricane Katrina there was a high level of infant mortality, many social services were struggling for survival in the face of the needs of its community. But in New Orleans, despite the poverty, there was always a sense of community. A history of roots connecting a people to the land, to the delta, to each other. Hurricane Katrina destroyed not only homes and businesses but it scattered people hither and yon. Severing ties of generations. Families split apart and made to navigate their lives in unknown seas. Life became a waiting game: waiting for news, waiting for the bathroom, waiting for showers, waiting for food & water, waiting for jobs, waiting for doctors, waiting for medications....waiting, waiting, waiting. Shelter, what is that when it is not your home or your belongings? In a room full of strangers, some helping, some not and the clock ticking slowly, slowly. Safety? Safe from the floods, the winds, and the rain but safety is not just about shelter from mighty storms. Safety resides in governments understanding the needs of its people during times of emergencies. But most important, it is the preparation before the disasters that help a people cope with such an enormous life challenge.
Infant feeding in emergencies requires a great degree of understanding of the risks of artificial milks. Most Americans believe that infant formula is just as good as breastfeeding. They believe breastfeeding is probably better for the baby but it doesn't really matter how a baby is fed. Thus, in an emergency, the first thought is how to get infant formula into the area. Yes, babies must be fed. And a mother who is exclusively formula feeding her infant and goes through such a disaster will need access to infant formula. But she will also need access to clean water, refrigeration for storing the artificial milk, a stove to sterilize bottles and nipples. This mother will also need to be aware of how easily an infant can dehydrate when on artificial milks. Thus her need for quick and easy access to medical help is important. The heat and humidity in the South without air conditioning is hard to bear. Infants and the elderly maybe at greater risk for heat related problems. So keeping an infant hydrated in the midst of such a disaster is vital. Breastfeeding boosts the immune system of the baby, a natural vaccination against pathogens in the environment. Artificial milks do not do this. An infant fed artificial milk is at higher risk for diseases than a breastfed infant, particularly an exclusively breastfed infant. Therefore, the safety of bottlefed infants creates a bigger economic burden on the community, on the government. It seems that our institutions are willing to take on that economic burden without question. Safety of the next generation is a priority in any society. There is talk about preventative medicine--eating nutritious foods, exercise, fresh air, etc. Certainly breastfeeding is preventative medicine. The parents and the community save in a variety of ways-medically, environmentally. Dollars that would be spent on artificial milks can be spent on other items. Yet our communities, our institutions, our government are willing to pay the price of artificial feeding. But are parents really understanding of the price they can pay by feeding their babies artificial baby milks? It is parents who will have to bear the burden of a community unwilling or unable to educate its citizens about the risks of infant formula.
Is there a connection between artificial baby milks and infant mortality? There are studies that show a correlation between the two. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, the UN published a report on global inequality. Specifically mentioned was the "growing racial and economic divide in the USA." "America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday."
In a US & World report in June 2, 2007, they state that in the heart of the Mississippis Delta the black infant mortality rate is 17 per thousand. It was mentioned that there is a belief that this rise of black infant mortality rates in Mississippi is related to Hurricane Katrina. In Caddo Parish, (Shreveport)Louisiana the black infant mortality rate is 32.7. While much of infant mortality is caused by prematurity, low birth weight, SIDS, and birth defects. Consideration should be made regarding the lack of breastfeeding among the young, poor, and black women in the South.
In a policy statement by UNICEF called "INFANT AND YOUNG CHILD FEEDING IN EMERGENCIES" they state, "Even in the best, most hygienic conditions, artificially-fed babies are five times more likely to suffer diarrheal diseases, emergency situations artificially fed infants are more than 20 times more likely to die from diarrhea and other infectious diseases than infants who are exclusively breastfed." in regard to Indian Ocean Crisis--
Some might say that UNICEF was directing this at developing nations not the USA. But looking at the rising black infant mortality rates in the South, particularly in areas with large numbers of Katrina evacuees, one might say that it is time for our communities to rethink infant feeding practices in the USA.
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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