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IBFAN – International Baby Food Action Network

Breastfeeding International Emergency Response with IBFAN Pakistan Report

June 2022,  The worst .floods in Pakistan‘s  history put a third of the country under water and  killed 1,717 people.   The monsoon rains, melting glaciers and severe heat wave were all linked to climate change. It is the world’s deadliest flood since the 2020 South Asian floods.  IBFAN Pakistan is  providing health, nutrition and breastfeeding counselling, and education on avoiding ultra-processed products and eating healthy local foods. Photo: Magdalena Whoolery.   Please send donations marked PAKISTAN.

Following Pakistan’s unprecedented Monsoon flooding, IBFAN Pakistan is urging solidarity in supporting the call from Pakistan’s Ministry of Health for appropriate IYCF-E infant and young child feeding in emergencies.  In order to avoid unnecessary disease outbreaks and deaths of children, the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding is critical. The agencies are warning that donations of unnecessary ultra-processed products, including formula, should not be distributed to vulnerable communities.

During emergencies, disease and death rates among children under five are higher than for any other age group. The younger the infant, the higher the risk of death. Babies are at great risk of water-related diseases, with diarrhoeal disease the second biggest killer of under-fives.  The mortality risk is high due to poor sanitation,  high rates of malnutrition and disease outbreaks. Inappropriate infant formula donations exacerbate these problems. Pre-floods Pakistan already had high rates of malnutrition with four out of 10 children under five stunted and 17.7% suffering from wasting.(1) Donations of baby feeding products can undermine efforts to protect breastfeeding – a practice that is resilient and provides food, care, immune support and protection from the worst of emergency conditions. Indeed breastfeeding prevents malnutrition in ALL its forms (2) and inappropriate donations risk exacerbating the malnutrition crisis further.

Aside from its crucial role in child survival, breastfeeding is the most environmentally friendly way to feed an infant that contributes to local food and water security. It is a renewable, sustainable food system that creates no waste or pollution and, unlike artificial feeding, does not add to the environmental burden that is exacerbating the climate crisis.

Donations of infant formula and other powdered milk products during emergencies carry many risks and are often in violation of Pakistan’s Breastfeeding Protection Laws (3), the Global IYCF Strategy (4) and the IFE Operational Guidance for emergency Relief Staff (5). Feeding bottles and teats are extremely difficult to clean and can increase the risk of infection.

A commitment by ALL emergency responders is needed to meet this ongoing humanitarian crisis and prevent disease outbreaks and child deaths. Any inappropriate donations, especially from food companies, should be reported to Ministry of Health, UNICEF, WHO and IBFAN.