Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tragedy and rejoicing

Today was the funeral of James Kim, an editor of an internet news website who lost his life while seeking help for his family after they became stranded in snow in Oregon, USA. After the car ran out of petrol, the family burned tyres to try to keep warm and finally James decided to look for help following a stream he believed led to a town. His wife and two young children stayed with the car and were found after 9 days. The body of James Kim was found two days later.

Apparently this tragedy has been reported around the world. Partly, I believe, because the news site launched a campaign to try to find the lost family, partly because the role technology played in tracing their location. A 'ping' from a mobile phone helped to narrow the search. But another aspect was that Kati Kim breastfed her children of 7 months and four years, while having little to eat herself. She asked her parents to stress the importance of breastfeeding when they were interviewed on Larry King Live before her husband's body had been found.

ABC News reported Breast Milk Ensures Children's Survival, stating: "Experts say the episode suggests how mother's milk, in a disastrous pinch, can make the difference in whether a child survives."

This is the experience found in refugee camps. Members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) have experience from too many tragedies of the importance in supporting mothers with breastfeeding and re-lacting if necessary, as well as providing support so the risks of breastmilk substitutes, when these are necessary, can be reduced. See IBFAN's special pages on Infant feeding in emergency situations.

But this tragedy brings IBFAN's experience to mind for another reason. A reason that made be think twice before passing this story on.

When talking with a colleague who had worked with Kosovo refugees in Albania we were looking through pictures we could use in a report on the importance of the work done in the 'Infant Feeding Corners' they had set up with UNICEF support. We always try to be careful with the images we use, not least ensuring there has been appropriate consent given. One mother in a breastfeeding class was scowling at the camera and I asked if she was upset at being photographed. 'No,' came the reply. 'She is upset because her husband has been killed and other members of her family are missing'.

In an emergency situation there is often tragedy which should not be forgotten, even as we rejoice at the lives saved through the properties of breastfeeding.

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