A new report by the WHO, UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has revealed that the status of laws to protect breastfeeding in most countries is inadequate.
Of the 194 countries analysed in the report, 135 have in place some form of legal measures related to the International code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly.
The report which was made available to the Ghana News Agency on Monday by Olivia Lawe Davies, Communications Officer, WHO Geneva, said this was up from 103 in 2011, when the last WHO analysis was done.
The report, however, said only 39 countries have laws that enact all provisions of the Code—a slight increase from 37 in 2011.
The report dubbed: “Marketing of breast-milk substitutes: national implementation of the International Code – Status report 2016,” includes tables showing, country by country, which Code measures have and have not been enacted into law.
The WHO and UNICEF recommended that babies are fed nothing but breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding—as well as eating other safe and nutritionally adequate foods—until two years of age or beyond.
“It is encouraging to see more countries pass laws to protect and promote breastfeeding, but there are still far too many places where mothers are inundated with incorrect and biased information through advertising and unsubstantiated health claims,” Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
“This can distort parents’ perceptions and undermine their confidence in breastfeeding, with the result that far too many children miss out on its many benefits,” he added.
The report said the breast-milk substitute business is a big one, with annual sales amounting to almost $ 45 billion worldwide; this is projected to rise by more than 55 per cent to $ 70 billion by 2019.
“The breast-milk substitutes industry is strong and growing, and so the battle to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding around the world is an uphill one—but it is one that is worth the effort,” said UNICEF Chief of Nutrition Werner Schultink.
“Mothers deserve a chance to get the correct information: clever marketing should not be allowed to fudge the truth that there is no equal substitute for a mother’s own milk,” he said.
The report said globally, nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months—a rate that has not improved in two decades.
“Breast milk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
“Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life.
“Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers,” it said.
“Boosting breastfeeding rates would significantly reduce costs to families and governments for treatment of childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and asthma,” the report said.