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World Health Organisation

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a respiratory infection which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), causes fever, tiredness, sore throat and in severe cases, shortness of breath and respiratory difficulty, is the most challenging health issue the world has experienced in the past few decades.

WHO and other global public institutions have confirmed that the severity of COVID-19 infection is heavily linked with the overall state of the body’s immune system, a reason why people with pre-existing health challenges are said to be most vulnerable to the contagion.

It is, therefore, not surprising that since earlier this year when WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, people are now increasingly mindful of the state of their immune system.

For instance, the shopping lists of households across different parts of the world, including Nigeria, have revealed changes remarkably. CNN reported that the United States retail sales of orange juice jumped about 38 percent in the four weeks ending on March 28 when compared to the same period last year. Also, the Florida Department of Citrus disclosed that there was a spike in demand for 100% orange juice within the same period. The department forecasts a considerable increase in the short-term demand for the commodity.

Just like in the United States, there has been surplus demand for fruit juices in every other part of the world. During the five weeks the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun were on lockdown, shops and supermarkets had run out of orange fruit juice stock in the first two or three weeks of the restriction.

In fact, less than a week into the lockdown, my favorite 100% Real Orange Fruit Juice, which would have made the stay-at-home less boring for me, had rapidly been purchased off the shelves in Lagos. The scramble for unavailable raw fruits in the open markets started in earnest. That the restriction on movement cut off a large chunk of the supplies did not help matters.

This major spike in the demand for pure fruit juice, especially the orange category, could be attributed to the immune-boosting power of orange juice. Peter McCaffery, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, said vitamin C, which is contained in orange juice, helps to strengthen the immune system to fight off bacteria and virus infections like the one the world is currently grappling with.

There are still relatively very few studies on the effect of nutrition on the human immune system. Yet, Harvard Medical School in its Harvard Health Publishing says deficiency in zinc, iron, copper, folic acid, Vitamin A, B6, C (which is contained in large quantity in fruit juice) and E have negative impacts on immune responses. Fruit juice contains the vital micronutrients needed to boost immunity.

However, fruit juice intake is just one of the ways to boost one’s immune system. There are several other things one can do to achieve this – adequate sleep, thorough cooking of meat, maintaining good hygiene, moderate intake of alcohol and regular exercise.

There are lots of herbal mixtures on the shelves of local stores with labels containing ‘support immunity’, ‘immune booster’ etc. So far, there is no evidence that such substances can strengthen immunity.

Regular exercise is an essential component of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular function, helps control body weight, removes toxins in the body, increases blood circulation and lowers blood pressure. The result of these is a strengthened immune system that protects the body against infections and diseases. Regular exercise is most valuable when one shuns junk food and sticks to healthy eating habits and balanced diet.

Individuals are often advised to ‘eat well’ as protection against the risk of infection. This advice has become even more relevant since the outbreak of COVID-19. What is missing in this counsel is the real definition of ‘eating well’. It is good to fill your stomach, but at best, that may only give you energy. What about ‘going green’?

Fruits are also an awesome option, but you also need to be sure you are not eating trouble. You really might not know how many hands must have touched the mango or apple you want to eat. Pure fruit juice contains the same nutritional value as raw fruit. So, if you can find a pack of trusted and healthily-processed 100% fruit juice on the store shelf, you will be making a smarter choice considering the prevailing health challenge.

*Malomo is a nutritionist

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Breastfeeding has been proven to protect the health of mothers and babies. It naturally inoculates babies against disease because the mother’s immune system kick starts the baby’s ability to resist illness. This applies in both low-income and high-income settings.

For mothers, breastfeeding is also good. It is a natural contraceptive because it interrupts the menstrual cycle, and it protects women against breast and ovarian cancer.

Despite all these benefits, only 38% of babies are exclusively breastfed across the world.

A number of initiatives have been put in place to turn this situation around. One of these is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a UNICEF and World Health Organisation scheme launched in 1991. The idea was to make sure that all maternity wards, whether free standing or in a hospital, became centres of breastfeeding support.

Since its launch, more than 152 countries have signed up to the initiative. And by 2012 more than 21 300 facilities were designated baby friendly. This is close to 30% of all facilities worldwide and 31% of facilities in low and middle income countries.

But of the 152 countries, only 18 have reported setting up a government committee to direct and enforce the initiative.

South Africa, despite its bold commitments to improve breastfeeding, has not reported to the World Health Organisation. It still does not have national data to monitor breastfeeding rates to ensure that its policies are being effective.

And unless the country creates structures that ensure facilities become mother and baby friendly, breastfeeding rates in the country are unlikely to improve.

What it means to be baby friendly

The 10 Steps of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a proven strategy to provide this support at the critical time of delivery and just after. It increases all aspects of breastfeeding – initiation of breastfeeding immediately after birth, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding until the child is a toddler.

Its success is evident in countries like Cuba where, as a result of most of country’s 56 hospitals and maternity facilities being baby-friendly, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding at four months almost tripled in six years from 25% in 1990 to 72% in 1996. This success is related to government commitment and ongoing monitoring.

No official data has been released, but South Africa’s National Department of Health claims that the country has accredited 70% of its public hospital as baby friendly. The fact that 30% are not accredited indicates that there is no uniform system and no concerted push for accreditation.

There is also no information readily available on the accreditation of private facilities.

Hospitals and clinics are considered “baby-friendly” when they don’t accept free or low-cost breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles or teats, and implement 10 specific steps to support successful breastfeeding.

The ten steps include:

a written breastfeeding policy which all health care staff know about and are trained in

informing pregnant women of the benefits and management of breastfeeding

helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth and showing them how to breastfeed and maintain lactation