37 countries implement WHO’s infant formula code

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ISLAMABAD: Only 37 of the 199 countries reporting to the World Health Organisation (WHO) have passed the laws reflecting all the recommendations of the International Code of Marketing of breast-milk substitutes.According to the World Health Organisation report, 69 countries (35%) fully prohibit advertising of breast-milk substitutes, 62 (31%) completely prohibit free samples or low-cost supplies for health services, and 64 (32%) completely prohibit gifts of any kind from relevant manufacturers to health workers. Similarly, 83 (42%) require a message about the superiority of breastfeeding on breast-milk substitute labels, while only 45 countries (23%) report having a functioning implementation and monitoring system.Breastfeeding is the best source of nourishment for infants and young children, and one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. People who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese later in life, the report said. They may also be less prone to diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests, but globally, only an estimated 38% of infants are exclusively breastfed for six months. “Nearly all mothers are physically able to breastfeed and would do so if they have accurate information and support,” said WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development breastfeeding expert Carmen Casanovas.But in many cases, women are discouraged from doing so, and are misled to believe that they are giving their children a better start in life by buying commercial substitutes. Mothers are often inundated with incorrect and biased information through advertising, health claims, information packs, and sales representatives, the report stated. It said that the distribution of educational materials on breastfeeding produced by manufacturers of infant formula have a negative impact on exclusive breastfeeding, especially on mothers of first-born children and those with less formal education. The distribution of samples of infant formula also has an adverse impact on breastfeeding.Over concern that breast-milk substitutes were being marketed to mothers too aggressively, the 27th World Health Assembly in 1974 urged the member states to review the sales promotion activities on baby foods, and to introduce appropriate remedial measures, including advertisement codes and legislation where necessary. This led to an agreement on the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and the adoption of several subsequent resolutions on the matter.“Full implementation of the code is vital for reducing or eliminating all forms of promotion of breast-milk substitutes, including direct and indirect promotion to pregnant women, and mothers of infants and young children,” said Casanovas. WHO supports countries with implementation and monitoring of the code, and the comprehensive implementation plan on maternal, infant, and young child nutrition which aims to increase the global rate of exclusive breastfeeding for six months to at least 50% by 2025.To support this, WHO has developed courses which are used to train health workers to provide skilled support to breastfeeding mothers including HIV-infected mothers, help them overcome problems, and monitor the growth of children, so they can identify the risk of under-nutrition, overweight, or obesity. 

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