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UNICEF, partners launch “powdered milk = risk” campaign

BANGKOK, 14 August 2014 - UNICEF and its partners have launched a “powdered milk = risk” campaign aimed at ensuring mothers have full information about breast milk substitutes (BMS) and understand all of the facts before deciding how to feed their babies.

In Thailand only around 12 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. This is among the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the world.

Concern about the continued aggressive marketing of infant formula and other breast milk substitute products in Thailand was voiced Thursday, 14 August, during a campaign event panel discussion at Bangkok’s Chao Phraya Park hotel. Such marketing practices are seen as a major obstacle to promoting exclusive breastfeeding, as they lead mothers into mistakenly believing that the artificially-manufactured breast milk substitutes being promoted are just as good for their babies as natural breast milk.

“With this misunderstanding, many mothers think that it is not necessary to breastfeed their babies and they use infant formula instead,” said Pornthida Padthong, Communication Officer for UNICEF Thailand. “When a child receives less breast milk or no breast milk at all, they are more prone to sickness and disease.”

Also supporting the campaign are the Thai Breastfeeding Centre, the Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health, Dhurakij Pundit University and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

According to a 2013 review of scientific research by WHO, non-breastfeed infants are 63 per cent more at risk of diarrhoea than exclusively breastfed infants. They are also 12 per cent more likely to become obese than exclusively breastfed infants. Other scientific studies have shown that non-breastfeed infants are more at risk of developing allergies.

The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 in order to protect and promote breastfeeding. The Code prohibits the advertisement or promotion of breast milk substitutes such as infant formula and related products such as bottles and teats to the general public or through the health care system. To date, the Code has been adopted by 181 countries, and about 77 countries have turned some or all of the Code’s provision into national laws.  

According to International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the International Code Documentation Centre (ICDC), many of the worst and most frequent violations of the Code occur in Thailand, where infant formula is even promoted and distributed in hospital maternity clinics and maternity wards.

Dr. Sarawut Boonsook, head of the maternal and child health section, Bureau of Health Promotion of the Department of Health, said Thailand needs a national law to control the marketing of BMS and ensure mothers have complete information about BMS and breastfeeding. In many countries, such legislation has helped to support an increase in the exclusive breastfeeding rate, he said.  

In addition to advocating for a law that would rein in the unethical marketing of BMS, UNICEF and its partners are supporting the strengthening of the health system to promote optimal breastfeeding practices, including the development of breastfeeding curriculum and the training of nurses.



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