Statement attributable to Mr. Thomas Davin, UNICEF Representative for Thailand for the passing of the Control of Marketing of Infant and Young Child Food Act
BANGKOK, 5 April 2017 – UNICEF is delighted at the recent passing of the Control of Marketing of Infant and Young Child Food Act.
This is a momentous victory following decades-long efforts by countless parents and public health experts to protect the act of breastfeeding, which is one of the most critical ways for parents to give their children the best possible chance to be healthy and develop to their fullest potential in their life pathway into childhood and adulthood.
A medical journal The Lancet recently found that optimal breastfeeding alone could prevent more than 800,000 infant deaths each year. It contributes to higher IQs of 3 points on average, improved school performance and higher incomes. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in mothers.
The passing of this law marks Thailand’s milestone step in joining other countries such as the Philippines, India and Nepal in implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, an internationally-agreed measure to address the negative impact of aggressive marketing practices of formula milk on effective breastfeeding practices in a country.
For too long, Thailand has had one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the region, and had been one of the few countries in the region with no law to protect against marketing of breastmilk substitutes. And for too long, as a result, the act of breastfeeding remained the exception rather than the norm for infants and children under two, depriving them of the amazing health and intellectual growth benefits of this crucial practice, which no other breastmilk substitute come close to matching in terms of health and IQ gains.
It’s our job to make breastfeeding both the right choice and the easy choice. But when breastmilk substitutes are often marketed as equal to or superior to breastmilk in nutritional value, it sends the wrong and misleading message to families. When formula companies market their products in healthcare settings, it undermines the role of healthcare providers in delivering fact-based support to mothers. Recognizing that breastmilk is the single best source of nutrition for infants and young children, the Act helps regulate extensive and often misleading industry marketing of breastmilk substitute.
UNICEF is proud to have worked in partnership with the Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health and other partners such as the Thai Breastfeeding Centre Foundation for almost two decades on this important legislation, and would like to congratulate them on their commitment and tireless effort for the health of all children in Thailand.
The work is not finished. We now need to work harder than ever with communities and mothers, in order to better explain to them why breastfeeding is so critical for the future of their children as well as for their own wealth. We need to work with private sector partners so that lactating mothers can either breastfeed or pump milk in a safe and clean room reserved to do just that -- and no, we do not mean the restroom -- at their place of work.
We also need to work with Thai authorities to explore ways to expand further maternity leave provisions so that lactating mothers can have more time with their infants during their first months of life, whilst being confident that they still have a job when coming back from their leave. We need to work with health providers so that it becomes simply unacceptable to provide new mothers with a milk bottle less than one hour after a baby’s birth, unless there is a clear medical issue preventing the mother from lactating, as we cannot ignore how important this milk to the health of this young infant.
Much work ahead indeed to allow every infant in Thailand to benefit from exclusive breastfeeding. But today is a great step in that direction and is absolutely a day to be celebrated.
For more information, please contact