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Placing nutrition high on ASEAN governments’ agendas

© UNICEF/Vietnam/2011/Blewett

Critical Importance of First 1,000 Days of Every Child’s Life Highlighted at Workshop

Ha Noi, 9 April 2013 – A coalition of government and non-government partners today kicked off a two-day regional advocacy workshop in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, to share the process that led to strengthening Viet Nam’s maternity leave policy and restrictions on the advertising of breastmilk substitutes. The workshop, hosted by the Government of Viet Nam, was developed in response to region-wide interest in how these policies came to pass. Delegates from 14 countries will discuss and share the process that led to policy change, lessons learned, and recommendations for action throughout the ASEAN region and beyond.

At the workshop, participants will discuss the importance of Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) in national health and development goals; the role that national policies play in supporting IYCF practices; and the process used to achieve success in Viet Nam. Representatives from government agencies including the Ministries of Health, Labour and Industry, and Trade will attend the workshop from Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor Leste.

“Viet Nam’s two new laws signal the Government’s strong commitment to protect the health of our future generations,” said Madame Tong Thi Phong, Vice Chairwoman of the National Assembly. “Both policies highlight opportunities for all actors to create a stronger environment for optimal child feeding. We are honored to be considered a role model in the region, and by working together we can improve nutrition and help ensure a healthy, prosperous future for every child in the region.” 

© UNICEF/Vietnam/Truong Viet Hung

On June 18th, 2012, Viet Nam’s National Assembly made a landmark decision to extend paid maternity leave from four to six months - a bold departure from other maternity leave policies in Southeast Asia. Three days later, on June 21st, the National Assembly voted to expand the ban on advertising of breast milk substitutes (BMS) for infants from 6 months to 24 months, including feeding bottles and teats, as well as complementary foods for children under six months. Viet Nam’s law now more closely aligns with international recommendations on regulating marketing of breast milk substitutes. 

Both policies passed with more than 90 percent of the vote. With strong implementation, the policy changes will make significant and sustainable improvements to child nutrition in Vietnam by ensuring that mothers and families can make the best feeding choices for their infants and young children.

Poor nutrition during the critical 1,000 day period from a mother’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday can lead to lifelong, irreversible impacts on health and development – including impaired brain development, lower IQ, stunted growth (being too short for one’s age) and lost earning potential later in life. While East Asia has achieved incredible social and economic progress over the last decade, this progress is limited by the stunted growth of its children. Investments in nutrition can help break the cycle of poverty and increase a country’s GDP by at least 2-3% annually.

“We now know that all children, regardless of which region of the world they live in, have equal potential to grow and develop in the same way when they are given a nutritious start in life,” said Ms. Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Viet Nam’s Representative. “Stunting causes irreversible damage. That child will never learn, nor earn, as much as she or he could have. I encourage Governments in this region to make it a priority, with UNICEF’s support, to meet all children’s right to food and good nutrition so our next generations have a chance to develop to their full potential as adults.”
“We have truly arrived at our critical window of opportunity for nutrition. Momentum is building through global initiatives like Scaling Up Nutrition and political commitment for nutrition has never been greater.  It is our collective responsibility to harness that power and unlock the potential to benefit this region,” said Damien Cole, Ambassador of Ireland in Viet Nam. “A regional approach will allow countries to share their individual experience with each other for the collective benefit of all, and I hope that Viet Nam’s experience will lead to change in other national and regional policies.”

Jean Baker, Project Director of Alive & Thrive, quoted a new report from Save the Children, titled Superfood for Babies "If all women around the world breastfed their babies immediately after birth, we could save the lives of 830,000 babies a year,” she said. “The incredible representation at this workshop—including more than 100 delegates from 14 different countries and organizations — symbolizes our collective commitment to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding throughout the region. The Government of Viet Nam’s own leadership on these policies will ensure that every child has a better chance of reaching their full physical and mental potential, and we look forward to other countries joining in these tremendous successes.”

The two-day workshop is hosted by the Viet Nam National Assembly’s Institute of Legislative Studies in partnership with Alive & Thrive, the Viet Nam National Assembly’s Institute of Legislative Studies,  the European Union, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the International Code Documentation Centre (ICDC), Irish Aid, UNICEF and WHO.

For further information, please contact:

Ms. Fiona Quinn, Deputy Head of Development, Embassy of Ireland; Tel: 84 43974 3291;

Ms. Vu Thị Thu Ha, Alive & Thrive (A&T) PR and Advocacy specialist; Tel: 84(0)93 663 0589;

Ms. Sandra Bisin, UNICEF Viet Nam; Tel. 84 972765050;






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