UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore’s remarks at a virtual meeting to mark the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes

21 May 2021
A Ka Thanh, a baby boy from the Bana ethnic group was born at 8am on the 1st of January 2020.
UNICEF/UNI279936/Viet Hung

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 21 May 2021 - “Distinguished partners, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen.

“On behalf of UNICEF and together with Director General Dr. Tedros, and our partners of the Global Breastfeeding Collective – welcome everyone to this event to mark the 40th Anniversary of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

“Today is a reason to celebrate. Over the last four decades, we have seen a 50 per cent increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding.

“This success is due in large parts to the efforts you have made to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding – and to uphold the commitments in the Code.

“The Code was adopted 40 years ago in response to widespread unethical marketing practices that were encouraging mothers to purchase unnecessary, inferior, and expensive breast milk substitutes.

“These practices led to a drastic decline in breastfeeding, with catastrophic consequences to the survival, growth, and development of millions of children.

“The evidence is clear. Wherever they are born in the world, breastfeeding gives children the best start in life. It protects babies from common infectious diseases – which can make the difference between life and death. It boosts children’s immune systems and ensures they have the key nutrients they need to grow and develop to their full potential. And it reduces the risk of obesity and diabetes later in life.

“Since the adoption of the Code four decades ago, a majority of countries have enacted legislation to implement at least some provisions of the Code. And an estimated 900 million infants globally have enjoyed the survival, growth and development benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.

“This demonstrates that positive change for nutrition is possible and is happening at scale.

“However, there is still work to be done. Half of the world’s children are not exclusively breastfed. And ever-more-sophisticated marketing practices continue to undermine mothers’ and families’ confidence in breastfeeding.

“This includes the misguided fear that COVID-19 can be passed through breastfeeding – despite clear evidence and guidance from WHO and UNICEF that mothers suspected or known to have COVID-19 should continue to breastfeed.

“So there is still work to do. As we mark 40 years since the adoption of Code, the World Health Organization and UNICEF are urging all partners to work together to continue bringing it to life.

“We urge all governments to adopt legal measures that will enforce the Code fully – for example, taking a lead from India, where the law explicitly forbids breastmilk substitutes being promoted to mothers and pregnant women.

“We urge all baby formula companies to fully adhere to the standards in the Code as mandated by the World Health Assembly and its member states.

“We urge all governments and employers to support mothers and families, so breastfeeding is a feasible choice for them. This should include family-friendly policies that support exclusive breastfeeding.

“And we urge health workers to continue standing with us at the forefront of breastfeeding protection, promotion and support in line with the Code and global guidance on infant and young child feeding by WHO and UNICEF.

“To all of our partners here today – UNICEF stands ready to work with all of you to give millions more children the best start in life.

“Let’s work together to make this a reality.”

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