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UN agencies welcome effort to curtail marketing of infant formula in Thailand

A woman breastfeeds her child.
A woman breastfeeds her child.

UN agencies welcome effort to curtail marketing of infant formula in Thailand

A Cabinet-level Thai Government initiative to monitor and control the marketing of infant formula and other substitutes for breastfeeding, which is encouraged for children’s health by most nutritional experts, was praised today by the United Nations agencies for health and children.

“The unethical marketing and promotion of infant formula and other breastfeeding substitute products in health facilities has served to undermine breastfeeding in Thailand,” the Thailand representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Bijaya Rajbhandari, and the country representatives for the World Health Organization (WHO), Maureen Birmingham, said in a joint statement.

“This resolution by the Cabinet, which should help put a stop to these practices, is a commendable and critical step towards ensuring the best start in life for all children in Thailand,” the officials said.

The Cabinet’s resolution endorsed proposed measures by the Ministry of Public Health to seek cooperation from all medical and health care facilities in barring promotional activities for breast milk substitutes and related products or accepting donations to allow those activities.

The resolution also calls upon medical and health care personnel to “protect, support and promote breastfeeding,” and to not represent manufacturers, importers and distributors of breast milk substitutes and related products, according to the two UN agencies.

This past May, UNICEF voiced alarm at the decline of breastfeeding across East Asia, and stressed the need to ensure that mothers understand the long-term benefits of this importance practice for the survival and development of their children.

According to the agency, evidence shows that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life not only improves their future growth and educational achievement, but also significantly reduces national health costs and helps prevent chronic malnutrition.

In today’s statement, WHO and UNICEF stressed that the promotion and marketing of breast milk substitutes in health facilities was a violation of the International Code of Breast-milk substitutes, adopted in 1981 by the World Health Assembly.

Dr. Birmingham said that Thailand now needs to pursue effective regulation of the marketing of breastfeeding substitutes and related products to mothers both within and outside of health facilities.

Recent Ministry of Public Health data shows that only about 15 per cent of mothers in Thailand exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, while a large-scale survey in 2007 by the National Statistical Office found that about 15 per cent of babies had never been breastfed.