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Pakistan: Taking on the powder pushers

“Unscrupulous dealers are always trying to get children to consume a white powder that, especially when mixed with unsafe material, can be deadly,” says Simon Wright, Save the Children’s head of health.

He’s talking of course about so-called formula milk, marketed to parents of infants as an alternative for breast milk.

As a landmark Save the Children report in 2007 noted: “Almost 1.4 million children are still dying every year because they are not getting enough of their mother’s milk. Aggressive marketing by companies is one of the reasons babies are not breastfed.”

Millions of dollars are spent on marketing, directly undermining the excellent work done by organisations working on the ground to promote immediate and exclusive breastfeeding.

So the recent success in Pakistan marks an important breakthrough.

Rules to tighten formula marketing and to promote breastfeeding were developed by Government back in 2002 but these rules effectively sat on the shelf for another 8 years without getting formally notified.

Now, following a campaign by an alliance of NGOs, including Save the Children, under The Network for Consumer Protection Pakistan, the rules have finally been issued.

Cartoon posters used in the campaign by the Network for Consumer Protection Pakistan: The first cartoon signifies the problem – the companies pushing formula milk.

The second cartoon signifies the campaign’s advice to parents: Bin the formula bottle.  Babies should be exclusively breastfed from their first moments through their first six months.

Now the rules have at last been issued, the focus of the campaign effort has turned to implementation.

To ensure effective enforcement of the rules, the Government and the NGOs will work in partnership to monitor the companies.

“Government is ready to undertake all possible efforts to make breastfeeding a norm so that millions of the newborns and infants of the country can be saved”, declared Pakistan Federal Health Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin at an event to launch the new rules.

Importantly, he also committed the government to increasing investment in health.

The Save the Children team in Pakistan explain that this hard-won achievement marks not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but only the end of the beginning.

But celebrations are still called for. “Currently over 1 in 20 Pakistani children die in their very first month of life – so this campaign success will not only change lives but save them too,” says Mohammed Qazilbash, Save the Children Pakistan country director.

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