I am always happy when World Breastfeeding Week rolls around each year. It gives me a chance to hear about the latest programs that are working around the world to increase breastfeeding rates. This year I learned about how World Vision is promoting breastfeeding in the Philippines through its 7-11 Core Intervention Framework which includes 7 interventions for women and 11 for children 0 – 24 months of age.
The way in which we discuss breastfeeding is different depending on the country and the context. While in the United States we talk a lot about infant feeding choices, in other countries, especially those that have thousands upon thousands of yearly infant deaths caused by diarrheal diseases, infections, and sub-optimal feeding, the context changes. In these cases, it is nearly always critical that mothers breastfeed their children up to two years of age.
In the Philippines, parents spend $240 million on breast milk substitutes and multinational formula feeding companies spend $100 million on marketing in the Philippines alone. Those numbers account for the fact that only 34% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. While providing the best start in life for infants, many mothers are convinced that formula is better and easier for their lifestyles. But, often times women in low-and-middle-income countries like the Philippines do not always have access to clean water for formula. Dirty water can cause deadly diarrheal diseases that kill infants.
While breastfeeding provides the best start in life for infants, many Filipino mothers are convinced that formula is better and easier for their lifestyles. But, often women in low-and-middle-income countries like the Philippines do not always have access to clean water for formula. Dirty water mixed with formula can cause deadly diarrheal diseases that kill infants.
In 1981, the World Health Organization adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and in 1986 the Philippines became one of the early countries to translate the “Code” and pass its own executive order (EO 51) to curb the excessive marketing of breast-milk substitutes. But according to Kate Reinsma, a Business Development Manager at World Vision US, the Filipino government is decentralized meaning that even though there is a national law on the books local governments need to ratify it as well in order to enforce it.
World Vision with funding from the Gates Foundation has begun a new project using technology, specifically smart phones, to ask the general population to upload breast milk -substitute violations of the WHO code via an app. The app not only allows violations to be recorded it also provides vital breastfeeding and health information for mothers and their children.
The new project does have its share of drawbacks including low engagement rates with the general public, most of whom are not breastfeeding advocates. In fact, Reinsma said that one of the project goals is to increase breastfeeding awareness with the general public. Additionally, World Vision needs to increase awareness among Filipino health workers who work on the frontlines of maternal and child health because formula companies typically come to them first with branded products and milk-substitutes for mothers.
In working closely with the local governments in Quezon, Manila, and Malabon cities, Reinsma has found that it requires dedicated effort for progress to be made. Even so, World Vision has secured a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines’ Ministry of Health about the project and are working to help the government create an official flow through which formula company violations can be properly prosecuted through sanctions.
The app and project will officially soft launch on August 5 during the ASEAN Breastfeeding Forum and Big Latch (Hakab Na). Judging from all the social media chatter, it looks like it will be a great event with breastfeeding moms, NGOs, and advocates.
Art provided by uzuriart.com.