Hazards of Formula Feeding at IDP Camps

Several local and international websites, seeking relief goods, included infant milk formula as a requirement for IDPs displaced by the conflict between militants and government forces in northwestern Pakistan. It has been vital to note that Infant milk formula, when mixed with unsafe water, can cause diarrhea in infants.

Some formula infant milk has reached IDPs donated by private organizations and groups who rushed to help when the displacements began in early May. There has been concern about donations of the baby milk by companies. According to an Islamabad-based NGO the Network for Consumer Protection (The Network):

“formula milk had been distributed in camps, in violation of the International Code and Pakistan’s own laws”

There are laws in Pakistan and worldwide to promote breast feeding for infants up to the age of two years. These months of feeding are crucial for baby’s health in the near future and enable him or her to build natural immunity for diseases. The lack of access to safe water, and to utensils and fuel to boil it, in the IDP camps adds to the hazards of formula feeding.

National legislation in Pakistan adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes in 2002 to restrict the promotion of infant formula feeding. Objectives were to assess health professionals’ awareness of this law in urban government hospitals and describe their reports of violations, including receiving free samples, gifts and sponsorship. Most hospital health professionals were unaware of this legislation in Pakistan, and infant formula companies were continuing to flout the ban on gifts, free samples and sponsorship for health staff. WHO recommended the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes during the 34th World Health Assembly in Geneva in 1981 to control such marketing practices.

People of camps are from rural areas where the concept of formula feeding is unthinkable or unknown. Whereas in camps women might think that it could be beneficial for their babies as it is an imported or urban product and they start using it. Without knowing that it could be harmful for their young ones if not used with pre boiled safe drinking water.

Rukhsana Shereen, nutrition officer for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) working on the IDP emergency response, informs: “UNICEF found Lactogen 1, a breast milk substitute, being marketed for newborns at camps, along with feeding bottles. The manufacturing company had donated these items through a team from a university visiting the camps.”

“In an emergency situation breastfeeding is particularly important. A mother’s milk contains antibodies that can protect infants against disease. This is very valuable when they are living in conditions where sanitation is poor, making them vulnerable to sickness”.

I urge those who are reading this to pass this information to ones who can reach the camps and make a difference. The issue now seems to be of less importance but it has concerns about a whole next generation.

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