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Countries need to do more to stop harmful marketing of breast-milk substitutes, says UN

Despite efforts to stop the harmful promotion of breast-milk substitutes, countries are still falling short in protecting parents from misleading information, according to a new UN report released Wednesday.

UN News (27.05.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Y29KxB –  Titled Marketing of Breast‐milk Substitutes: National Implementation of the International Code – Status report 2020, the study highlights the need for stronger legislation to protect families from false claims about the safety of breast-milk substitutes or aggressive marketing practices, findings that take on increased importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Baby Food Action Network collaborated in the report’s publication.

 

Impact of aggressive marketing

 

“The aggressive marketing of breast-milk substitutes, especially through health professionals that parents trust for nutrition and health advice, is a major barrier to improving newborn and child health worldwide,” says Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.

 

“Health care systems must act to boost parent’s confidence in breastfeeding without industry influence so that children don’t miss out on its lifesaving benefits.”

 

WHO and UNICEF encourage women to continue to breastfeed during the pandemic, even if they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19, as evidence indicate it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding. “The numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus,” the authors find.

 

Of the 194 countries analyzed, 136 have in place some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly. While 44 countries have strengthened their regulations on marketing over the past two years, only 79 countries prohibit the promotion of breast-milk substitutes in health facilities, and only 51 have provisions banning the distribution of free or low-cost supplies within the health care system.

 

Further, only 19 countries have banned the sponsorship of professional association meetings by manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes, which include infant formula, follow-up formula and growing up milks marketed for use by infants and children up to 36-months old.

 

Trained healthcare professionals know best

 

WHO and UNICEF recommend that babies be fed nothing but breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding – as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods – until two years of age, or beyond.

 

Babies who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times less likely to die than those who are not, the authors stress. Yet, only 41 per cent of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed, a rate WHO Member States have committed to increase to at least 50 per cent by 2025.

 

Inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, meanwhile hamper community counselling and mother-to-mother support services for breastfeeding – leaving an opening for the breast-milk substitute industry to capitalize on the crisis.

 

“We must, more than ever, step up efforts to ensure that every mother and family receive the guidance and support they need from a trained health care worker to breastfeed their children, right from birth, everywhere,” stressed UNICEF Chief of Nutrition Victor Aguayo.

 

The Code bans all forms of promotion of breast-milk substitutes, including advertising, gifts to health workers and distribution of free samples. Labels cannot make nutritional and health claims or include images that idealize infant formula. Instead, labels must carry messages about the superiority of breastfeeding over formula and the risks of not breastfeeding.





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Sudan bans female genital mutilation, UNICEF vows to help support new law

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the landmark move by Sudan’s transitional government this week to criminalize female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), with a three-year jail sentence for offenders.

 

UN News (02.05.2020) – https://bit.ly/2W9jd6G – “This practice is not only a violation of every girl child’s rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl’s physical and mental health,” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF Representative in Sudan.

 

Sometimes called female circumcision, the traditional practice involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for no medical reason.

 

“This is why governments and communities alike must take immediate action to put an end to this practice”, he added.

 

The move comes following years of persistent and forceful advocacy, including by the National Council for Child Welfare, women and child advocates, UN agencies and international, national and community-based organizations.

 

Estimates show that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

 

And Sudan is considered to have a very high FGM/C prevalence rate, which UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) revealed was at 86.6 per cent in 2014.

 

Rights violation

 

FGM/C has no benefits and not only poses immediate health risks, but also long-term complications to women’s physical, mental and sexual health in addition to their well-being.

 

A reflection of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, the practice is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights of girls and women and as an extreme form of gender discrimination.

 

Moreover, WHO points out that every year, before they turn 15 years old an estimated three million girls risk being cut without their consent, making the practice also a violation of the rights of children.

 

And when the procedure results in death, FGM/C violates rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life as well.

 

And as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global community has set a target to abandon the practice by the year 2030.

 

Making it stick

 

UNICEF maintains that it needs to work very hard with communities to help enforce the new law.

 

“The intention is not to criminalize parents”, flagged the UNICEF representative, “we need to exert more effort to raise awareness among the different groups, including midwives, health providers, parents, youth about the amendment and promote acceptance of it”.

 

UNICEF is committed to eliminating all forms of FGM/C and will continue its focus on building a protective environment for children that safeguards them from abuse and exploitation.





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South Sudan: UN official welcomes release of women and children abducted by armed group

The expert leading UN efforts to stamp out sexual violence committed during wartime has welcomed the release of 78 women and 50 children by an armed group in South Sudan.

 

UN News (04.02.2020) – https://bit.ly/31Mlk1i – They were among more than 500 women and children abducted between April and August 2018 by the pro-Riek Machar Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO RM) and subjected to repeated rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage.

 

“This release is an encouraging and long-awaited development, in a context of prevailing insecurity and immense operational, logistical and resource constraints,” said Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in a statement issued on Tuesday.

 

Release followed months of negotiations

 

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has been marred by years of conflict and instability following a political crisis which led to conflict between supporters of President Salvar Kiir and Mr. Machar, his former deputy, in December 2013.

 

The two leaders were expected to form a unity government last November, in line with a September 2018 peace deal, but the deadline was extended to this month.

 

Ms. Patten said the release of the abducted women and children followed months of negotiation between Mr. Machar and his local commanders and her Office, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and its Senior Women Protection Adviser.

 

“When I met with Dr. Machar last year, I expressed my grave concern about the plight of these women and children, many of whom were reportedly subjected to systematic and brutal forms of conflict-related sexual violence”, she said.

 

“As a result of our discussion, he issued a command order calling for the release of all women and children held against their will and their transfer to the United Nations and its civil society partners. This order was in line with the Unilateral Communiqué on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which was signed by the SPLA-IO in 2014 in the framework of my mandate”.

 

Women and children inspired to come forward

 

The women and children who were freed had been held for many months in military bases in the Western Equatoria region of South Sudan.

 

They are currently being supported by the UN and its civil society partners and have been referred for medical and psychosocial support.

 

Several of the women are pregnant and also have been referred to prenatal healthcare facilities.

 

Ms. Patten said their release is encouraging other women and children to come forward and seek support.

 

Her Office will continue to advocate for the release of the remaining abductees being held in Western Equatoria.


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