World Vision promotes breastfeeding to avert malnutrition in typhoon-stricken areas

  • 1.5 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition (source: UNOCHA)
  • An estimated 800,000 pregnant and lactating mothers need nutritional help (source: UNOCHA) 
  • Ensure standards don’t slip, says aid agency
  • “No” to indiscriminate distribution of breastmilk substitutes

As aid continues to reach children and families affected by Typhoon Haiyan two weeks after it hit central Philippines, World Vision urges prevention of acute malnutrition among children and pregnant/lactating mothers.

The latest report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) cites about 1.5 million children and 800,000 pregnant and lactating mothers at alarming risk of malnutrition.

During emergencies, breastfeeding is identified as top preventive measure against malnutrition, based on the international Sphere Minimum Standard for Humanitarian Response.  

“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.

“The Philippines has one of the world’s strongest and most mother-friendly breastfeeding policies, and we strongly encourage the government to keep these in place.”

Philippine law regulates, and sanctions against violations of the marketing and promotion of breastmillk substitutes, reflecting global guidelines of the optimal and safest feeding practice for infants, especially in emergencies, said Portales.

“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.” 

To support breastfeeding in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, World Vision is establishing safe and comfortable spaces for mothers to breastfeed, rest, and receive skilled counselling, health and nutrition education, and advice on breastfeeding and nutrition. These “Women and Young Child Spaces” provide support for women struggling with feeding challenges in the aftermath of an emergency.

“There will always be a small number of infants who have to be fed on breast-milk substitutes, and we believe suitable substitutes, procured, distributed and fed safely should continue to be provided. But indiscriminate distribution of infant formula can encourage mothers to move away from breastfeeding,” said Portales.

“Interruption of breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months, can lead to the rapid deterioration of a child’s health. And these weeks and months after a disaster of this scale make this even more important.”

World Vision does not accept donations of breastmilk substitutes, and will only source and distribute infant formula in exceptional situations where the infant cannot or should not be breastfed.  

World Vision is calling on the government and organisations responding to the typhoon to:

  • Create and sustain an environment that encourages exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months of age, and frequent breastfeeding for children up to two years and beyond.
  • Uphold the Philippines Milk Code by refusing donations of breastmilk substitutes and other products covered in Executive Order 51, and increase awareness to prevent indiscriminate donations of breastmilk substitutes.  
  • Be vigilant to monitor and report indiscriminate and uncontrolled donations, distribution and use of breastmilk substitutes in relief operations, in accordance with the Milk Code.