Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Give children best start in life

By Pia MacRae (China Daily) Updated: 2013-11-01 07:16

Over the past weeks, Chinese media have exposed the scandal that some health workers accepted bribes from infant formula companies to recommend their products. The authorities should follow up the news for the sake of millions of infants who may not receive any breast milk as a result of health workers failing to inform mothers that breast milk is best for their babies.

Give children best start in life

However, it remains to be seen if top personnel in hospitals and health workers will heed the warnings and put a stop to recommending infant formula to mothers across China. Without clear directives from hospital management and medical practitioners to ensure that mothers understand what is best for their babies, health workers will continue to be targeted by infant formula companies to provide free samples and recommendations to new mothers.

It is certainly the hope of all breastfeeding advocate groups, including Save the Children, that this is the turning point for China in encouraging all mothers to choose breastfeeding over infant formula. While China was an early adopter of the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes in 1995, implementation has been challenging. This is evidenced by a comparison of China and India - two of the world's largest emerging economies.

Data reveal a huge disparity in the retail value of formula sales in the two countries. India's sales stayed under $200 million between 2002 and 2007, while China's sales skyrocketed from $1 billion to $3.5 billion over the same five-year period. These differences in sales have been largely attributed to the enforcement of the code, which prevents formula milk companies from giving free samples and approaching pregnant women, new mothers and health workers.

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