SAN DIEGO — Hunger is a hot topic these days.
Rock singers are continually thinking up this or that "aid" event, and the pictures of starving children in Ethiopia leave an indelible impression on the world.
Connected to such media images are realities no less important but ones that haven't garnered nearly the recognition.
One is breast-feeding.
The tendency on the part of some might be to laugh at the mere mention of mothers nursing babies. "Breast-feeding," they will ask, "a world crisis ?"
In some ways, said Dr. Audrey Naylor, it is.
Naylor is co-director (with nurse practitioner Ruth Wester) of the San Diego Lactation Program. Naylor's program recently received a $425,000 grant from the federal government to continue its teaching in Third World lands.
The focus of much of its new effort is Africa--where the hunger won't go away.
"Everyone is so aware of famine," Naylor said, "but lying beneath that are all sorts of other problems, breast-feeding certainly being one. UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) has its child survival program, and breast-feeding is a fundamental part. Our hope is to work with a number of African countries, which we haven't done before, and to continue our work in Latin America and Asia."
Naylor's program started in 1977 at UC San Diego Medical Center. It later moved to Mercy Hospital, where funding problems were a chronic concern. Earlier this year the program asserted its independence and moved to new offices, taking on an additional name.
It's now known as the San Diego Lactation Program as well as Wellstart, which Naylor says offers insight into the program's focus and philosophy.
"We're in an area of business that's concerned with wellness, the health of nursing infants," she said. "Hospitals are basically oriented to illness."
For years, Naylor and Wester have trooped through the villages of Indonesia and Guatemala (as well as other lands), educating health professionals and mothers on the virtues of breast-feeding. A kind of joint crusade is their preaching against the power of international baby-formula manufacturers, such as Nestle, which they say dominate Third World thought on the subject of infant feeding.
The Agency for International Development, the group funding their efforts, is an arm of the U.S. State Department, which hopes the program will widen its base and commitment in foreign territory.
The local phase of the program, Naylor said, will continue its work with "moms, babies and dads" throughout the Southland in helping ease the sometimes-trying woes of breast-feeding.
The international phase, meanwhile, will offer three training sessions a year, each lasting a month, with two weeks of preparation before and two weeks of follow-up afterward. Each monthlong seminar will bring in 36 people (health professionals and educators) from countries such as Guatemala and Indonesia.
The other part of the project will involve Naylor and Wester going overseas. That's where Africa comes in.
"Teaching is very powerful," Naylor said, "moreso in my mind than direct service. We teach teachers, and they go out and teach others. (She estimates, directly or otherwise, having reached 1.5 million 'baby-and-mother pairs.') It's terribly exciting, and it really brings the costs down."
How? Less illness means less cost to consumers, and besides, she said, breast-feeding is cheaper than formula.
Naylor is proud of efforts in Indonesia, where a hospital recently reduced--dramatically so, she said--its incidence of infant diarrhea.
"The Indonesians are warm, fun-loving, family-oriented people," she said. "Before, they were always worried about visitors coming in to see the babies. The babies would end up sick. But breast milk is so protective that now there's no logical reason to remove babies during visiting hours. The babies are healthier than ever before."