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KYRGYZSTAN: Draft law to curb formula milk sales, boost breastfeeding

19-08-2008

BISHKEK, Krygyzstan, (IRIN): A draft law on promoting breastfeeding as a means of tackling health and nutrition problems among infants is being discussed in Kyrgyzstan.

"Today many mothers in Kyrgyzstan do not go in for exclusive breastfeeding of babies under six months old. Besides their breast milk, they give cow's milk, tea with milk, `kefir' [fermented cow's milk] or food from the family table to their babies," Tursun Mamyrbaeva, a child nutrition specialist at the Science Centre for Maternity and Childhood Protection, told IRIN in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Health experts say newborns need to be exclusively breastfed at least until they are six months old. Breast milk contains all the microelements and nutrients that children need during the first months of their lives. These nutrients are extremely important also for further their development, they say.

"Medics are concerned by the proliferation of various artificial baby milk formula products, and breastfeeding is being displaced," said Mamyrbaeva.

The prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women, lactating mothers and children is a major health issue, especially in Talas Province, northwestern Kyrgyzstan, where 71 percent of pregnant women and nursing mothers, and 50 percent of children, are anaemic, according to the Kyrgyz Health Ministry.

The ministry also said 25 percent of stunting among children in the province was caused by insufficient nutrition.

After studying the situation in Talas, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) discovered that the children with iron-deficiency anaemia had been bottle-fed babies or babies that were not breastfed.

Public hearings in Talas

In early August representatives of the Health Ministry, Kyrgyz lawmakers, experts and UNICEF representatives held public hearings in Talas at which they discussed the draft law on breastfeeding and possible curbs on the marketing of children's food.

Deputy governor of Talas Province Baktygul Saparbaeva said: "We are grateful to parliamentarians, UNICEF and doctors for raising this issue and for the drafting of a bill that will help our women and children."

Lawmaker Dinara Moldosheva said the problem was topical. "There is a demographic crisis in the country, birth rates are not increasing, and we need to adopt this law. It is the first time we have discussed the bill with the civil sector and donors. I think its adoption could help improve the situation."

If passed, the bill will help regulate the sale of artificial baby products, believe those advocating it.

"Breast milk substitutes are being imported into Kyrgyzstan from 15 countries," said Yulia Aleshkina from the Healthcare Drevelopment Centre.

Violations

Recently, the Centre conducted studies of the sales, marketing and advertising of several companies' baby nutrient formulas, including those of Nestlé and Nutricia.

According to Aleshkina, a number of violations were revealed. For instance, some formula food packaging did not include the warning that the product could not replace breastfeeding, merely supplement it.

Aynura Eralieva, aged 23 and from Talas Province, said she breastfeeds her son, giving him nothing else. "But I know that many mothers give [baby] formula to their children because there is a general opinion that it is healthy. Even [some] doctors say that."

"Formula milk manufacturers are interested in quick sales and even work with medical organisations," Aleshkina said.

"Doctors are given various gifts and the logos of famous milk formula companies are to be seen on paramedics' premises. This is a violation of the rules," said Aleshkina.

UNICEF representative in Kyrgyzstan Timothy Shaffter told IRIN: "It is very important that the authorities and civil society members are actively involved in the solution of this problem. This gives hope that the situation will change for the better".

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