SYRIA: Infant breastfeeding can “save lives” says world agencies

WNN Breaking

Displaced children on the Babusselam in Kilis-Syria border Novemeber 2012
Displaced children on the Babusselam in Kills-Syria border, November 2012. Image: Yardim Vakfi/IHH-Humanitarian Relief Foundation-Turkey

(WNN/RW) Aman, JORDAN: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) along with the UN Refugee Agency, the World Health Organization and two global NGOs – Non-Governmental Organizations are strongly urging those involved in funding, planning and implementing the emergency response to the Syria crisis to avoid unnecessary illness and death in children by promoting breastfeeding. By strongly discouraging the uncontrolled distribution and use of breast-milk substitutes (e.g. infant formula) and other powdered or liquid milk and milk products it is hoped that lives can be saved.

The people inside Syria and those displaced may find themselves often in very difficult and unsanitary conditions thus can be at major risk of serious water-borne diseases. Breastfeeding confers critical protection from infection especially where safe water is unavailable and there is poor sanitation. Breastfeeding saves lives.

Artificial feeding with breast-milk substitutes in an emergency carries high risks of malnutrition, illness and death and is a last resort only when other safer options have first been fully explored and deemed unavailable.

The risk of dying is particularly high because of the combined impact of communicable diseases and diarrhea together with possible increases in rates of under-nutrition as people flee their homes.

UNICEF, the UN refugee agency, the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, International Medical Corps, and International Organization of Christian Charities   / Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch said that statistics showed that in serious emergency situations, such as the one currently facing those affected by the Syria crisis, disease and associated death rates among under-5 children are higher than for any other age group.

Where the use of breast-milk substitutes is unavoidable, the partners only recommend ready-to-use formula that should adhere to the International Code for Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Any distribution and use of breast-milk substitutes should be carefully monitored to ensure that only infants who have no possibility to breastfeed receive them and that they are used safely.

The nutrition partners said that, in line with internationally accepted standards, donations of infant formula, baby bottles and teats and other powdered or liquid milk and milk products should not be made. Past emergencies show that an excessive quantity of poorly targeted products can actually endanger infants’ lives.