The government is preparing to take legal actions against 10 baby food companies and doctors for violating law in marketing and promoting breast-milk substitutes.
“We have 10 complaints. Our legal adviser is preparing how to take legal actions against the law violators,” said Dr Shah Newaz, director of the Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN), at a press conference at the health ministry yesterday.
The ministry along with IPHN and Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation (BBF) jointly organised it as part of observing the World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7).
There are complaints that some companies are marketing baby food without IPHN registration, providing gifts to doctors or buyers to promote their products, IPHN Legal Adviser BM Elias told The Daily Star by phone.
Also, some doctors prescribed substitutes for breast milk even before completion of six months of babies, he said, adding that these were serious violations of the Breastfeeding Substitute Baby Food (Marketing Control) Act, 2013.
“We will soon serve legal notices to the companies and doctors concerned. If they fail to provide satisfactory answers, we will go for legal actions,” BM Elias said.
According to him, between 2000 and now, there were no cases filed against the baby food companies or doctors violating laws.
Asked why the government is taking so long in framing a bylaw based on the 2013 act, which was passed in September last year, and whether there is any pressure from the multinational companies, Health Secretary MM Neazuddin said, “The bylaw will be finalised in a month.”
“Public awareness is crucial because we have seen children of the well-off families also suffer from malnutrition,” he told the press conference.
Health Minister Mohammad Nasim said exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age of a baby had a lifelong impact on her health, but there were many men and women who did not care about it.
Presently, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding (which means the infant only receives breast milk without any additional food or drink, not even water) is only 64 percent, while the rate of feeding supplementary food after six months is only 21 percent, he said.
Though Bangladesh has achieved much in reducing child and maternal mortality rates, 36 percent of children below five years are under-weight and 41 percent under-height.
As part of a massive campaign for exclusive breastfeeding, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the breastfeeding week titled “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life” at Osmani Memorial Hall today.
Hospitals and community clinics will arrange discussions and rallies across the country, and there will also be a media campaign, Nasim said.
BBF Chairperson Dr SK Roy said 207 hospitals had already been declared “baby-friendly”, while the rest would be declared so gradually.
The private hospitals have also been instructed to have breastfeeding corners so lactating mothers can breastfeed them without hesitation, he said.