IBFAN alerts the 73rd World Health Assembly to baby food exploitation of COVID-19

The May 2020 session of the World Health Assembly  was a virtual two day meeting  focusing on COVID-19 18/19th May. IBFAN’s written statement reaffirmed our support for WHO as the authority in setting global health norms, and our abhorrence of the freezing of assessed contributions that has left WHO vulnerable to commercial and political influences from those who seem to believe that one dollar buys one vote.

Click here for links to background papers, the EU-led Resolution that was adopted without opposition, written statements by IBFAN and other Non State Actors  and webcast that stretched late into the night. 

The Resolution could have been much stronger.  Nevertheless is contained important recommendations and observations. For example OP4: Calls for the universal, timely and equitable access to and fair distribution of all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies and products including their components and precursors required in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority, and the urgent removal of unjustified obstacles thereto

IBFAN Statement on COVID-19

IBFAN supports WHO as the authority in setting global health norms. We abhor the freezing of assessed contributions that has leftWHO vulnerable to commercial and political influences from those who seem to believe that one dollar buys one vote.  

Over 40 years IBFAN has witnessed the undermining of breastfeeding by commercial and other forces. During the AIDS pandemic, the fear of transmission when there was no access to anti-viral treatments, led to replacement feeding being promoted as an answer – with subsequent increases in infant mortality.  Covid-19 may be different, but there is a lesson to be learned.

Breastfeeding is the baby’s first vaccine. Maternal anti-bodies and the powerful anti-infective factors in breastmilk strengthen an infant’s immune system and have a positive impact on the microbiome – critical in building resistance and mitigating many health threats.  Breastmilk substitutes lack such protection. 

Despite this, because of fear of Covid-19 transmission, mothers and babies are now being separated at birth – undermining breastfeeding – on the basis of no evidence.

Baby food companies exploit this situation. Paying no regard to WHO/UNICEF policy they are distributing free formula, ultra-processed foods and misleading advice – claiming to be trustworthy partners. 

Let’s put an end to such duplicity.

While respecting women’s decisions on these matters, It’s time to scale up advocacy for breastfeeding, for biodiverse foods, for local markets, for agro-ecology. 

Let’s stop the promotion of de-natured ultra-processed products that pretend to be food.

Let’s end corporate control of agriculture, land-grabbing and mono-cropping. 

Let’s ensure that public health decisions are taken by authorities that safeguard against undue commercial influence.

COVID-19 is indeed a tragedy, but lets see if, with the support of a truly independent UN system working for the public good and health for all, we can turn this around and create a better world.


Baby Milk Action Update 39: April 2007

UN HIV Policy changed as research shows exclusive breastfeeding cuts death toll

The protection and promotion of breastfeeding has been ranked as the most cost-effective intervention for child survival, and could prevent 13–15% of child deaths in low-income countries. A 2006 investigation into a serious outbreak of diarrhoea in Botswana highlighted again the danger of artificial feeding: 93% of the infants admitted to hospital were not breastfeeding, and these children had the greatest risk of dying. However, the knowledge that breastfeeding can also transmit HIV to children has created a dilemma for parents and health policy makers and has undermined infant feeding policies in many countries – a situation that has been exploited to the full by the baby food industry. Since 1999 researchers in South Africa have been pointing to evidence that exclusive breastfeeding reduced the transmission of the HIV virus, at least for the first 3 months. But since the studies were not specifically designed to address this question, no one knew for sure how significant exclusive breastfeeding was. The world needed more evidence.

Now, at last, the results of a new meticulous, independently funded, 6-year prospective study have been published by The Lancet (Mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 infection during exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life: Coovadia et al., Lancet March 31 2007; 369: 1107–16 Exclusive Breastfeeding and HIV W.Holmes, F Savage 1065-1066)

The study of over 2,722 children in KwaZulu–Natal, South Africa found that mixed and replacement feeding presents an unacceptable risk to infant survival. In relation to HIV transmission, when HIV-positive mothers breastfed exclusively, their babies had a lower risk of infection with HIV than those with any type of mixed feeding. Adding formula to breastfeeding nearly doubled transmission risk and the addition of solids increased the risk 11-fold. Importantly, the study also showed that mortality by 3 months of age for replacement-fed babies (15%) was more than double that of those who were exclusively breastfed (6%). The study also demonstrated the effectiveness and feasibility of interventions to promote exclusive breastfeeding.

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