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Breast is best, especially in an emergency

Patti Rundall of Baby Milk Action and Simon at the WHO Executive Board
Patti Rundall of Baby Milk Action and Simon at the WHO Executive Board

The discussions on infant-feeding at the World Health Organisation are under the shadow of the emergency in Haiti. We know that every year, one-third of all child deaths have undernutrition as the direct underlying cause. So promoting breastfeeding and stopping the inappropriate promotion of breast-milk substitutes and other products is vital to protect children’s lives. We know that in emeregncies there is a tendency to abandon good practice, ignore guideliness and fall into thinking that doing something – anything – is better than nothing. (Did you see the news story that an American evangelical church is sending solar-powerd audio bibles to Port-au-Prince to “help” them?!!)

The same happens with breakmilk substitutes: companies often donate large quantities of products which are then given out randomly to mothers.

Save the Children has campained for years against the inappropriate promotion of breastmilk substitues in developing countries, with our partners like Baby Milk Action. We also need to make sure that guidelines are following in an emergency. Giving free “samples” of breastmilk substitute can disrupt the exclusive breastfeeding that a baby needs for the first six months of life. Using contaminated water to make up formulas introduces infections. And the many vitamins and nutrients in breastmilk cannot be surpassed.

Today I got a chance to intervene on this item, jointly with baby Milk Action and IBFAN, and make the additional point that other products which can be used to treat malnutrition also need to be regulated to avoid them being promoted as alternatives to good locally-sourced foods, which in turn leads to children’s diets becoming unbalanced.

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