August 21st, 2007
Breastfeeding battle rages on in Philippines
This month as communities around the world marked
international World Breastfeeding Week (Canada celebrates Oct 1-7), formula
companies in the Philippines launched an advertising offensive designed to
undermine breastfeeding in that country. The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare
Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents several
multinational formula companies,
placed an ad in the country’s leading papers during WBW to demonstrate
its supposed commitment to breastfeeding and infant health. The
advertisements were promptly condemned by the World Health Organization,
UNICEF, and the Philippines Department of Health (DOH).
PHAP and the DOH are currently in a highly publicized
legal battle over the proposed implementation of strong
pro-breastfeeding laws known as the Milk Code, which amounts to an outright
ban on formula advertising. PHAP is desperate to quash the new rules, and is
fighting tooth and nail to protect its profits under the guise of
safeguarding mothers’ right to “information” about infant feeding.
The ad distorted figures compiled by WHO and UNICEF in an effort to
demonstrate that national breastfeeding rates are at acceptable levels and
have not been endangered by formula advertising. For instance, PHAP claimed
that the Philippines has achieved a “commendable” breastfeeding rate of 87%.
This may appear high, but in fact this number represents the percentage of
babies who have ever been breastfed even once, and the Philippines has the
lowest “ever breastfed” rate among the 56 countries which have recorded such
data. Half of all infants in the Philippines are exclusively breastfed for
less than 25 days, and it is estimated that 16 000 children die every year
in the country because they are not breastfed. This is what formula
companies call “commendable”?
UNICEF publicly stated its objection to PHAP’s ads.
“Recent statements from the infant formula industry distort clear evidence
and can confuse the public regarding two important facts,” said Colin Davis
of UNICEF. “One, exclusive breastfeeding in the Philippines is declining;
and two, the use of formula exposes infants to serious health risks. These
ads are further proof that the National Milk Code needs to be rigorously
The formula ad also stated that “the World Health Organization recognizes
that for the non-breastfed infant, infant formula is appropriate.” This too
is a distortion of WHO recommendations, which state that the best
alternatives to breastfeeding are expressed milk from the infant’s mother,
breastmilk from a wetnurse, and thirdly breastmilk from a human milk bank.
“The use of breastmilk substitutes is a last resort,” said Jean-Marc Olivé
of WHO. “In fact, infants who are not breastfed, for whatever reason, should
receive special attention from the health and social welfare system since
they constitute a risk group.”
The Filipino supreme court is currently deliberating over the implementation
of the Milk Code. INFACT Canada joins our Filipino partners in hoping that a
positive outcome will be reached soon. The health of many infants is at
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