UNICEF Pakistan nutrition chief likens infant formula firms to tobacco industry

By Cheryl Tay contact

- Last updated on GMT

Galvin has called for stricter laws for infant formula manufacturers. ©Getty Images
Galvin has called for stricter laws for infant formula manufacturers. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Infant formula

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Pakistan's nutrition chief Melanie Galvin has compared infant formula manufacturers to the tobacco industry, saying they have been "using similar tactics here after regulations were tightened against them in the modern world".

She suggested that manufacturers should be subject to strict laws urgently, and that the Infant Feeding Boards should focus on promoting breastfeeding and discouraging "unethical practices"​.

She told Pakistani media after attending a sensitisation workshop organised by the Nutrition Support Programme that since being subject to more stringent rules in developed countries, multinational infant formula firms had turned their attention to the developing world, where they were now selling their products to mothers instead of encouraging breastfeeding.

She said, "In Pakistan, they have found their place even in the infant feeding boards of Sindh, Punjab and other provinces, which is very alarming.

"We need to make collaborative efforts to remove them from these regulatory bodies, which have to take action against them.

"They are very powerful people with a lot of resources and the only thing that can prevent the use of their influence is the tightening of laws and awareness among the civil society, physicians and common people."

This criticism comes after Pakistani authorities banned​ infant formula marketing and samples in all hospitals, and enforced stricter rules on manufacturers of imported formula products.

Doctors and parents not doing their part?

She added that Pakistan's breastfeeding rates were "going in the wrong direction"​ because doctors were advising mothers to bottle-feed their babies.

Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) Sindh president Professor Jamal Raza said breast milk was "the best vaccine" ​against illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are responsible for infant and child mortality in Pakistan.

However, he said, mothers with a higher level of education were less willing to breastfeed than lowly educated and uneducated mothers in Sindh.

This sentiment was supported by other experts who had attended the workshop, including Nutrition Support Programme manager Dr Zahoor Baloch.

The workshop was organised in collaboration with UNICEF Pakistan, the PPA, and the Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists (SOG), and attended by physicians and experts from various healthcare facilities and organisations.

We have approached the Asia-Pacific Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association (APIYCNA) — of which brands such as Danone Nutricia, Nestlé, Abbott and Wyeth are membes — for its reaction.

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