KARACHI - Parliamentarians, doctors, pediatricians, religious scholars and civil society organisations have emphasised on the government to pass a law from the Sindh Assembly to regulate the breast milk substitutes/infant feedings and promote early initiation and exclusive breast feeding to control the infant mortality rate. At a seminar titled ‘Saving lives of newborn by early initiation and exclusive breast feeding’, which was organised by the Health Education Literacy Programme (HELP), in collaboration with South Asian Infant Feeding Research Network (SAIFRN) and Nutrition Cell Balochistan (NCB), here at a local hotel on Friday. The experts termed the role of breastfeeding is a key in economic benefits as well as in achieving the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child mortality, to improve maternal health and gender equity. Provincial ministers, legislators, doctors, pediatricians and representatives of Unicef attended the event in large number.Health Education Literacy Programme Chairperson Prof Dr DS Akram explained the ‘Protection of breast feeding and child nutrition ordinance 2002’, under which rules were framed and board was constituted to implement and keep vigil eye on the marketing of formula milk/infant feeding. She said that role of infant feeding board was clarified in the lapsed ordinance. Dr Akram further said that after the 18th amendment in the constitution, the subject has been devolved to the provinces, emphasizing on provincial assemblies especially on Sindh Assembly to pass a law on the pattern of Breast Feeding and Child Nutrition Ordinance issued in 2002 before next elections.Sharing the code of marketing of breast milk substitutes, Dr Akram noted that the World Health Organisation and Unicef have always emphasized on the health and nutrition of infants and young children. After thorough discussion, an international ‘code of marketing of breast milk substitutes’ was formed by WHO in 1981, which was developed as global public health strategy by recommending restrictions on the marketing of breast milks substitutes, such as infant formula milk to ensure that mothers are not discouraged from breastfeeding.  Pakistan is among the 118 countries that voted in favour of adopting the code, but implementation on it through passing laws from provincial assemblies is still awaited, said Dr Akram.Pakistan has lowest exclusive breast feeding rates and highest bottle feeding rates amongst the South Asian countries, she informed the seminar, noting that to restrict indiscriminate advertising and promotion of breast milk substitutes, it is imperative to adopt law to check and regulate marketing of infant feeding/milk immediately.She said that saving lives of newborn by early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding project being implemented by the HELP with funding of Maternal and Newborn Health Programme Research and Advocacy Fund (RAF), through which religious scholars, parliamentarians and medical practitioners were being sensitised on the issue.Sindh Rehabilitation Minister Haji Muzafar Shujrah of PPP while sharing his views appreciated the efforts of the HELP and assured his support to table the bill in Sindh Assembly.Sindh Minister was of the opinion that the women in rural areas initially and exclusively feed the breastfeeding to the children but practice is not common in cities among especially working women.    He further said that he would also soon table a bill in Sindh Assembly to get control on population, suggesting punishment on more than two kids.MPA Pitamber Sewani announced that he will table the Breast Feeding and Child Nutrition Bill in provincial legislature. Zekarias Getachew, nutrition specialist at Unicef for Sindh while sharing his views said that Sindh was vulnerable in the nutrition survey released by the Unicef and other organizations recently. He informed the Unicef was supporting interventions in three main areas-to reduce child mortality rates through encouraging breastfeeding, to improve mothers health and behavioral changes.Sharing the outcome of nutrition survey, unicef representative said that five of ten children in Sindh suffering of malnutrition.  Prof Dr Femina Arif, pediatrician at Dow Medical University of Health and Sciences in her presentation emphasized the importance of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding. Pakistan is second from bottom in South Asian countries in the infant mortality rate of under 5 mortality rate. She added that Pakistan is lowest after Afghanistan in initiation and exclusive breast feeding, saying that Pakistan can cut 22 per cent infant mortality rate through ensuring first hour initiation breast feeding.Dr Femina informed the audience that following the advocacy meeting with HELP, the code of marketing of breast milk substitutes and the infant and young child feeding has been included in the undergraduate medical curriculum of DUHS.Dr Jamal Raza, General Secretary of Pakistan Pediatric Association admitted that the some pediatricians involved in encouraging of formula milk. He disclosed that a huge business of Rs7.1 billion involve in the infant feeding/formula milk annually in the country.Qari Shaheryar, a religious scholar quoted the holy Quran, saying that religion also encourages for breastfeeding for the children.  Saleem Abbasi, member of SAIFRN, Dr Ambreen Saad, Dr Yasmeen Suleman and others also shared their views on the issue.

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 12-Jan-2013 here.