Myanmar has now taken first public steps towards a yearlong campaign to fight BMS (Breast Milk Substitute) and support breastfeeding. It was definitely not an easy feat for Myanmar to endorse a report and make strong statements condemning BMS marketing practices but improving breast feeding rates could prevent 823,000 child deaths globally each year.
In Myanmar, only one out of two children are exclusive to breastfeeding.
Dr May Kin Than, Director of the National Nutrition Centre under the Ministry of Health and Sports, said, “51 percent of the children in the country are exclusively breastfed in the country and we want to achieve a 90 percent compliance.”
Dr May added that while the government has no plans to ban companies selling infant formula, they need to follow WHO and government regulations. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Children should be given complementary nutrition and foods from six months onward and continue to breastfeed until two years old.
Country Director for Save the Children Myanmar, Michael McGrath added that although the BMS products do play an important role for mothers who cannot breastfeed for various reasons, formula milk products are being pushed onto consumers in Myanmar by companies in a manner that is inconsistent and globally agreed upon guidelines.
While breastfeeding rates have been traditionally strong in Myanmar, mothers and their family members are increasingly being exposed to persuasive marketing that undermines that confidence to breastfeed, idealizes artificial feeding and does not warn risks of not breastfeeding.
“Don’t Push It”, a report by Save the Children, first launched on 27 February 2018, warns of dire consequences for children due to aggressive marketing of formula milk products, especially in countries like Myanmar, where only half of mothers are exclusive to breastfeeding. Children who need breast milk are being given substitutes because of misleading advertising campaigns as health workers are being co-opted to join the campaign by unscrupulous marketers.
Dr Ohmar Soe Win, Director of Food and Drug Administration in Yangon said that breast milk substitutes for children under two years old are controlled by the Code of Marketing Notification released in 2014. However, this did not stop the number of babies being fed with formula milk, rising to unprecedented levels. Moreover, the breast milk substitute industry is expanding up to three times faster than the global economy.
“All formula milk products, both imported and local, are controlled under the Code of Marketing,” Dr Ohmar Soe Win said. “They must be labelled entirely according to the guidance, such as having a label in Myanmar language.
Myanmar had already started first partner kick off meetings to develop first mass marketing campaign to promote breastfeeding. The campaign is set to launch in August 2018. Watch out this page for more updates!