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UNICEF warns against distribution of formula milk during emergencies

JAKARTA, 12 August, 2009 — Feeding formula milk to babies during emergencies can endanger their lives, UNICEF warned while appealing to policymakers for the strict control of formula milk donations and distribution.

Data from UNICEF’s rapid survey, one month after the Central Java earthquake in 2006, showed that 80 per cent of households received formula donations and diarrhoeal incidences among children less than two years old increased four times. The prevalence of diarrhoea among children who received donations of infant formula was almost double compared to those who did not. Donations of infant formula or milk powder have proven to do more harm than good as clean water and fuel to boil water for safe preparation of formula milk are usually limited.

Today in Bekasi, West Java,  UNICEF and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment kicked off World Breastfeeding Week 2009 celebrations and National Breastfeeding Month in Indonesia with a seminar titled “Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response – Are you ready?” highlighting the importance of breastfeeding as a life-saving intervention, especially during emergencies.

“In emergency situations, just as under normal conditions, interrupted breastfeeding and inappropriate formula feeding heighten the risk of malnutrition, illness and death among children,” said Ms. Angela Kearney, the UNICEF Representative in Indonesia. “Mothers should be given all the support to sustain breastfeeding. Donations of formula milk must be strictly controlled to ensure that they reach those children who truly need them and do not disrupt breastfeeding practices,” she added. Marcoluigi Corsi, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Indonesia, was present at the launch on behalf of Ms Kearney.

Despite repeated warnings by UNICEF, WHO and the Indonesian Paediatrics Society of the dangers of uncontrolled distribution of formula milk following several natural disasters since 2004 Asian tsunamis, a large numbers of formula milk donations continued to be given to babies as lack of understanding among humanitarian actors still remain. Compounding this problem is the inadequate capacity of health staff to counsel mothers on breastfeeding, and difficulties to monitor and control donations of baby milk and food. 

In Indonesia, between 2002 and 2007, there has been a decline in exclusive breastfeeding of children below six months old from 40 per cent to 33 per cent, coupled by an increased use of bottle feeding from 17 per cent to 28 per cent. “In order to respond appropriately in emergencies, we must first establish strong capacities to support infant feeding under normal conditions,” said Ms. Kearney. 

UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and other partners to strengthen policies and services for improving breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices. Research demonstrates that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months can reduce up to 13 per cent of 200,000 Indonesian children under the age of five who die annually. A breastfeeding promotion project in Klaten district after the 2006 earthquake has demonstrated a significant increase in exclusive breastfeeding rate from 3 per cent in 2005 to 22 per cent in 2007.

At the event, UNICEF also launched a compact, user-friendly toolkit on proper infant feeding practices in emergencies to guide key decision makers and programme managers in both government and non-government bodies.

Contact: Anna Winoto, Nutrition Specialist, 62 811803412, atau Iwan Hasan, Communication for Development Specialist, 62 81511331234,, Lely Djuhari, Media Specialist, 62 811 802 338, 




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