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Contaminated Infant Formula

September 26th, 2008 - UNICEF and WHO in Viet Nam are shocked and saddened by the impact of the contaminated infant formula produced in China. Deliberate contamination of foods, especially those intended for consumption by vulnerable infants and young children, is particularly deplorable.

We extend our sympathy to those families whose children have died or are ill because of this contamination.
“The actions of the perpetrators have led to loss of life and placed children’s growth and development at risk,” said Jesper Morch, Representative of UNICEF Viet Nam.

“This problem now has the full attention of the Chinese Government and we are now confident that swift and far-reaching actions are being taken to protect children,” he said.

WHO has offered technical support to the Viet Nam Food Administration as it investigates any potential contamination of products in the country.

Comprehensive food safety laws are vital in this age of international trade.  But even more important is strict enforcement, surveillance and quick response from authorities to food safety breaches. 

Constant vigilance and updating of food safety laws is required from all countries.

WHO and UNICEF strongly emphasise that breastmilk is unquestionably better for infant feeding than any infant formula.

“This shocking incident has highlighted that the safest and healthiest choice parents can make is to breastfeed infants,” Dr Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative for Viet Nam said.

“Parents should be made aware that infant formula can be tainted or contaminated during its manufacture, preparation and use.

“Exclusive breastfeeding up to six months is the greatest gift a mother can give,” he said.

BREAST FEEDING – the facts

Situation of exclusive breastfeeding in Viet Nam

  • Recent studies show that only 17% of Vietnamese infants were breastfed exclusively in the first six months of life.
  • Initiation of breast feeding within one hour after birth is not up to expectations with a rate of 58%.
  • It is very common in Viet Nam to give water, milk, sugar fluid to the infants soon after delivery.
  • In recent years we have seen an increase in bottle-feeding for infants.
  • Up to 80% of Vietnamese children are given complementary food before 6 months of age.

Key messages:

  • Mothers should breastfeed newborns EXCLUSIVELY FOR SIX MONTHS and continue breastfeeding along with appropriate complimentary food up until two years.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding will help Viet Nam reach Millennium Development Goal 4 – reducing child mortality. 
  • More than one third of child deaths occur during the first fragile month of life and early breastfeeding provides critical nutrients, protects infants against deadly diseases and fosters growth and development.
  • Non-breastfed babies are 4 times more likely to die than breastfed ones.
  • Babies who did not start breastfeeding until after 24 hours from birth are 2.5 times more likely to die than babies who did.
  • Non- breastfed babies more suffered from later chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetics and cardio-vascular diseases than breastfed babies

Dispel the myths:

  • Infants up until 6 months DO NOT need water besides mothers milks to clean the mouth after breast feeding
  • Infants up until 6 months DO NOT need early solid food/rice gruel other than breast milk to be stronger
  • No infant formula contains the perfect combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to enhance infant growth and brain development as breastmilk does.
  • No infant formula contains antibodies to protect infants against infection as breastmilk does.
  • No infant formula is as safe to administer as breastmilk. Breastmilk is natural.
  • No infant formula is as affordable to families as breastmilk which is free.


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