Hurrah! The Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding is 5 years old. We were there at the birth at the World Health Assembly in 2002, calling for this to put the interests of mothers and infants before corporate profits. Even though it was adopted by the HEALTH Assembly, industry lobbyists and governments pushing their agenda are there in force, trying to weaken text that could have an impact on sales.
We and our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) took a strong line. Policy making on health should be in the public interest, not corporate interest. This point was stressed when our colleague Annelies Allain addressed the Assembly shortly after the Global Strategy was adopted. For her intervention see:
Here is an extract:
IBFAN is quite prepared to join WHO in this effort, and to throw its weight behind the Global Strategy, but we need to know who else will be involved in the implementation. Involvement by the commercial sector is most likely to create conflicts of interest and may undermine everything the Strategy tries to achieve.
In the current euphoria over partnerships with the private sector, some of you may wonder about IBFAN´s insistence on keeping industry out of breastfeeding, about keeping commercial companies out of all places where infant feeding decisions are made. But we are consistent with WHA Resolution 49.15 of 1996 and we have good reasons to be wary. We have seen too many cases of industry interferenc. We have seen the Nestle letters to the Ministers of Health lobbying to reverse the effect of the Code. We have seen the PR handed out in Latin America, stating the Code is fully complied with. We know that is not true. We have seen the information to mothers with conflicting messages by companies like Nutricia. Partnership in the light of these cases is like inviting the fox to the chicken coop. There can be no partnership in policy making.
We are concerned, that the Strategy could be seriously eroded if its implementation becomes privatized. We are pleased that the Global Strategy highlights (para 44) one simple role for the for-profit sector, and that is that "their conduct at every level conform to the Code, subsequent Health Assembly Resolutions, and national measures that have been adopted to give effect to both". We ask industry to fully respect this in order to avoid conflicts of interest between commercial objectives and the public health agenda.
In a press release issued today, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), of which we are also a member, reminds us of key provisions in the Global Strategy. You can download the press release at:
Here is an extract (with my comments on how the UK Government is doing):
The Global Strategy identifies nine operational targets with the first four incorporated from the Innocenti Declaration.
The targets are:
(1) The appointment of a national breastfeeding coordinator of appropriate authority, and establishment of a multisectoral national breastfeeding committee;
[In the UK there are infant feeding coordinators or equivalent in every country except England, where the post has been discontinued. A national breastfeeding committee has not been established].
(2) Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding (the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative) practiced in all maternity facilities;
[UNICEF UK is active in promoting the initiative, but far from all maternity facilities have implemented the ten steps. Present figures show that 51 out of 320 maternities are accredited as Baby Friendly].
(3) Global implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions in their entirety;
[The UK Government has yet to implement the Code and Resolutions in their entirety. In 2002 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on it to do so. We are still waiting - and campaigning].
(4) Enactment of imaginative legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women; and establishment of means for enforcement of maternity protection;
[There has been some progress with maternity leave extended and, as reported here last week, there are moves to strengthen discrimination legislation to protect mothers further].
(5) Implementation of comprehensive government policies on infant and young child feeding;
[The UK Government is currently taking a piece meal approach. Comprehensive action could improve infant health, reduce health inequalities and save the National Health Service a fortune].
(6) Full support from health and other sectors for two years of breastfeeding or more;
[The vast majority of UK mothers who stop breastfeeding in the first few weeks say they did not want to stop. There is a lack of support for mothers. In particular I think the Government should do far more to support the mother-to-mother organisations while stopping baby food companies from targeting mothers].
(7) Promotion of timely, adequate, safe and appropriate complementary feeding (addition of other foods while breastfeeding continues);
[While the UK Government has changed its advice to give 6 months as the recommended age for introduction of complementary foods, it has done nothing to stop baby food companies promoting complementary foods for infants younger than this. Promotion of foods for use from 4 months of age is widespread].
(8) Guidance on infant and young child feeding in especially difficult circumstances, and related support for families and caregivers; and
[One thing I would like to see the government do in this area, is support the UK milk bank network. A postcode lottery is in operation at present, with just 17 milk banks. These are under-resourced. Milk banks not only improve the survival chances and health of premature infants, they save money on longer-term treatment. In Brazil milk banks are centres of excellence for breastfeeding support. Why don't they have the same support here? ]
(9) Imaginative legislation or suitable measures giving effect to the International Code as part of the national comprehensive policy on infant and young child feeding.
[UK legislation in this area is poor. It is narrow and poorly enforced. We are calling for the Code and Resolutions to be implemented in the UK. You can send a message of support by clicking here].
To encourage comprehensive action and implementation of the Global Strategy in the UK, we are backing the Breastfeeding Manifesto campaign. You can do the same. Find out more at: