By: Monalinda Cadiz, Child Health Now Communications Specialist; World Vision Philippines
Three months after the anniversary of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Monalinda Cadiz reflects on the importance of advocating for breastfeeding, particularly during disaster.
Milk frequently appears in priority list of goods that well-meaning responders would mistakenly think of to donate when emergencies strike. But then again, this is always a mistake, sadlly capitalised on by profit-oriented perspective
“It’s not easy to continue to breastfeed after an emergency, when mothers and systems are put under pressure, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t remain a priority,” said Minnie Portales, World Vision Philippines Public Engagement Director.
“It’s not easy to continue to breastfeed after an emergency, when mothers and systems are put under pressure, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t remain a priority,”
World Vision does not accept milk donations, especially during emergencies. In the Haiyan response, this stand of WV has been strongly affirmed within the civil society circle, corporate and celebrity partners, government partners, the media, including the milk industry itself. This stand is directly in line with the World Vision advocacy for breastfeeding through the Child Health Now campaign.
Making a stand was an arduous task for World Vision, but it proved to be half the battle won. World Vision thrives partly through its partners, who at some point are not always in the same fence, which may pose risk of severing ties with significant benefactors. Take one of our staunch celebrity child sponsors, a household name from tv and the movie industry. She recently supported a celebrity challenge, bringing in more celebrity sponsors in World Vision, most of which are as popular as she is. She was also an early responder to the Haiyan relief, raising a hefty amount auctioning part of her wardrobe. Then she posted on a social networking site that it will be given to World Vision relief response, including the purchase of baby milk. World Vision immediately informed her of the milk policy, which is why she learned that “baby milk” may put babies at risk especially during emergencies. She retracted her posts about milk donation in her social networking accounts after that.
But the incident was a mere tip of the iceberg. A senior government official leading the relief was also heard urging listeners of a radio program to donate milk. A bigger threat to breastfeeding loomed when pressured national health officials announced in internal meetings with non-government organisations that the standing policy banning milk donations would be lifted, apparently to prevent malnutrition in disaster zones. This alarmed organisations advocating for breastfeeding, because the Milk Code with its implementing rules, is supposed to be protecting breastfeeding. And these advocates knew that breastmilk substitutes would not prevent malnutrition, but could worsen it.
“There is no exception in this law for emergencies, nor do we believe there should be. Now is when children and their families are at their most vulnerable, and encouraging them to continue doing what is best for their child is more important than ever,” responded Portales through press releases published in national dailies and online counterparts.
Advocates from the civil society lauded World Vision for publicising its stand, including an earlier online petition for national legislators to support the Milk Code and block amendment bills. For the record, the ban on milk donations has never been lifted during the relief response for Haiyan. A quick battle win for breastfeeding advocates in the Philippines, World Vision included.
''For the record, the ban on milk donations has never been lifted during the relief response for Haiyan. A quick battle win for breastfeeding advocates in the Philippines, World Vision included''.
Apart from guarding the Milk Code against amendments that will weaken regulatory policies on marketing and promotion, including the donation of breastmilk substitutes during emergencies, World Vision put up 13 tents mainly as breastfeeding spaces in Leyte, Panay and North Cebu. From November 20, 2013 when the first tent was set up, until February 1 this year, a total of 14 tents have been established. A total of 1,307 pregnant and mothers in Haiyan affected areas who are nursing their babies, have attended sessions about breastfeeding practice at the Women and Young Children Space (WAYCS) tents.
“Honestly, it’s my first time to hear that it’s alright to breastfeed another baby other than your own. I’ve always thought it was not good because old people said that I will become malnourished and my milk would dry up if I breastfeed a girl.''
Marilou said she was happy that she attended the WAYCS when the midwife discussed breastfeeding because she learned that what she believed in was just a myth- now she knows the truth. “Now I can help breastfeed the baby of my neighbor if its own mother cannot do it herself. I have to tell my old neighbors about it,” continues Marilou.
The WAYCS served its purpose of providing that private space for women to focus on nurturing their young children in the midst of chaos brought about by a disaster. They learned from formal sessions emphasising on the benefits of breastfeeding and the detriments of substituting with milk formula, as well as proper feeding of solid food, and proper care and hygiene of young children.
Breastfeeding kits containing a scarf, tumbler and food container were given to 1,159 breastfeeding mothers for their privacy in nursing even in public places, and a storage for their own nutrition that they may be able to provide enough milk for their young ones.
World Vision Philippines has a long way to go in defending the best practice to provide nourishment for infants and young children. Nonetheless, Haiyan provided an opportunity to test World Vision’s commitment to respond to urgent and defining issues that may change the landscape of young child nutrition in the country. And World Vision stood its ground, albeit in an often hostile environment, and will continue to do so with a wholistic view of supporting the vision for every child of life in its fullness.