At a glance: Viet Nam

UNICEF partners with Viet Nam’s National Assembly to protect breastfeeding

DA NANG, Viet Nam, 1 May 2012 – In a record move to protect the breastfeeding rights of women and children, UNICEF and the National Assembly’s Institute of Legislative Studies have concluded a series of high-level consultative meetings in Viet Nam’s coastal city of Da Nang.

At the high-level meetings, almost 200 elected bodies and National Assembly delegates reviewed international recommendations and their obligations to protect breastfeeding under Viet Nam law.

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© UNICEF/NYHQ1999-0826/LeMoyne
A woman carries her daughter in the town of Ngoc Lu in the northern province of Ha Nam, Viet Nam.

During these events, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Alive & Thrive Initiative, and national experts called for a ban on the advertisement of breastmilk substitutes for infants and young children up to 24 months and supported the proposal to extend paid maternity leave to six months.

Risks of breast milk substitutes

An Alive & Thrive survey shows that a large proportion of parents in Viet Nam give formula milk or water to their babies in the first days of life. Additionally, less than one in five children benefits from exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and only 23 per cent still receive breastmilk at age 2.

But relying on breastmilk substitutes leaves children vulnerable to mixing mistakes, manufacturing errors, and contamination, which can contribute to disease and death. Even though powdered formula is made from pasteurized milk, it is noty sterile and contamination can occur during the later stages of manufacturing.

Formula also lacks the antibodies and other bioactive substances present in breastmilk, which protect children from illnesses. A non-breastfed infant is at least six times more likely to die in the first few months than a breastfed child.

Research published in The Lancet shows that early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding as well as continued breastfeeding for 24 months have the greatest potential impact on child survival of all preventive interventions, with the potential to prevent 1.4 million deaths in children under age 5 in the developing world.

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© UNICEF Vietnam/2012/Bisin
UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam Lotta Sylwander speaks at the consultative meeting on promoting breastfeeding, in Da Nang, Viet Nam.

“Early, exclusive and continued breastfeeding results in reduced illness during childhood and in later life. The savings from this reduction in illness are significant from a health systems perspective. It is estimated that optimal breastfeeding could save the Viet Nam health system US$10 million per year,” said Ms. Nemat Hajeebhoy, Senior Country Director of Alive & Thrive in Viet Nam.

Helping mothers breastfeed

Yet too many women face practical limitations to exclusive breastfeeding, particularly the need to return to work.

“Exclusive breastfeeding is difficult to achieve if the mother has to leave her infant and parental responsibilities behind and return to work before six months,” said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam. “To create an enabling environment for breastfeeding and other recommended child-caring practices, governments should enact legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women, such as paid maternity leave for six months or beyond.”

The Department of Family and Social Affairs and Viet Nam’s Women’s Union voiced support for the extension of paid maternity leave to six months, and emphasized the need for additional supporting policies and funds for rural women.

A representative for the Department of Social Health Policies Enforcement confirmed that there were ample funds available to cover the costs of extending maternity leave to six months.

Improper marketing of breastmilk substitutes

Meeting attendees also discussed the importance of implementing the International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, a health policy, endorsed by WHO and UNICEF in 1981, prohibiting the marketing of formula to the general public.

“Asia-Pacific accounts for 31 per cent of the global retail value sales of baby food, compared with 24 per cent in Western Europe and 22 per cent in North America,” said David Clark, UNICEF's Nutrition Programme Officer. “Improper marketing and promotion of food products that compete with breastfeeding are important factors that often negatively affect the choice and ability of a mother to breastfeed her infant optimally. Given the special vulnerability of infants and the risks involved in inappropriate feeding practices, all promotion of breastmilk substitutes intended for use up to the age of 24 months should be banned, in accordance with the International Code.”

A National Assembly seating to review and adopt the Labour Code Amendment and proposed Advertisement Law will take place later this month.

“Mothers need to know breastfeeding is the right thing to do, as it provides their babies with a natural gift. Let us make it easier for women to do both: contribute to Viet Nam’s economy and provide their children with the best start in life,” Ms. Sylwander concluded.


 

 

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