How Kenya is fighting back to protect breastfeeding: Addressing infant formula industry tactics during COVID-19

In 2020, the World Breastfeeding Week’s theme was “Support Breastfeeding for a Healthier Planet.” In the previously published Healthy Newborn Network (HNN)s blog post, “How Kenya is fighting back to protect breastfeeding: Addressing infant formula industry tactics during COVID-19,” Ms. Rose Wambu, Ministry of Health Kenya, and Dr. Justine Kavle, Kavle Consulting, LLC  discussed how the infant formula industry was targeting Kenyan health providers during the pandemic, and how Kenya’s Ministry of Health responded to violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (i.e. the Code).

While breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventative interventions to tackle “COVID-19, rising child malnutrition, and early child death,” the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted ways the infant formula industry targeted the Kenya Pediatric Nurses Chapter, the Nutritionists Association of Kenya, and other Kenyan health providers to promote the suitability of breast milk substitutes over breastfeeding.

In response to violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (i.e. the Code) by the infant formula industry, Kenya’s Ministry of Health and the Government of Kenya called for four primary actions:

  • First, disseminate WHO guidance at the country level, specifically encouraging lactating women suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 to “wear masks when feeding, use proper hand hygiene,” and other measures for effective breastfeeding.
  • Second, create penalties for Code violators, including instituting fines for health providers who promote breast milk substitutes.
  • Third, work with the Kenya National Infant and Young Child Feeding Committee and MIYCN Technical Working Group to issue a statement condemning the promotion of infant formula and provide advice to address this problem at the subnational level.
  • Fourth, increase key stakeholder’s and Kenyan health providers’ knowledge of the Code, and “ensure health workers are equipped to understand their role, responsibilities and accountability to the public health system and families to protect and support breastfeeding.”

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