Citing the importance of infant nutrition especially, exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has warned manufacturers and distributors of Breast Milk Substitutes (BMS) to stop violating the International Code of Marketing of BMS or risk prosecution.
Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof Mojishola Adeyeye, who handed down the warning in Lagos recently, expressed the displeasure over what she described as continued violation of the Code and national regulations by manufacturers of BMS products.
Lamenting that violation remains a major challenge to the adherence to the Code, Adeyeye, however, assured that the Agency would ensure full compliance to the Code by manufacturers through the enforcement of existing laws and regulations.
Adeyeye spoke at a one-day media workshop on Compliance With the Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitute, organised by NAFDAC in collaboration with Alive and Thrive/FHI 360 funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
She affirmed that the importance of appropriate infant and young child feeding and its resultant effect on national economic development cannot be overemphasised.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that infants should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth. Breast milk has been scientifically proven to serve as the best food for babies that are less than six months.
While breastfeeding a child provides all the goodness of breast milk that are known to be uniquely superior and vital for optimal infant physical, emotional and mental growth.
Adeyeye who was represented by the Deputy Director, Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, NAFDAC, Abdulsalam Ozigis, noted that the knowledge and lack of awareness of stakeholders including the media, has also contributed to the gravity of violations currently being practiced in Nigeria.
According to her, this necessitated the need for the Regulatory Agency in collaboration with relevant partners to aggressively address this “unpleasant situation through interventions including effective sensitisation of all stakeholders.”
She explained: ” Specific focus will be on the review of the existing violations, provisions of the Code and national regulations, challenges faced in curbing violators, need for stakeholders to join forces with the Regulatory Agency in curbing the menace and the way forward.
“For better code compliance, it is essential to note that the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981 (WHA 34.22; 1981).
“Nigeria voted for Code adoption and was, therefore, expected to implement all its provisions in their entirety as a minimum requirement for its implementation through appropriate national measures including legislation. National legislation to implement the Code may, therefore, be stronger but, certainly, not weaker than its provisions.”
The NAFDAC boss also added: “Since the adoption of the Code, and in order to strengthen and further clarify some of its provisions, several subsequent relevant World Health Assembly, WHA resolutions have been adopted to ensure the achievement of the principles and aims of the Code.”
She cautioned that without adequate Code implementation and enforcement, breastfeeding rates will remain low in the country leaving infants and young children at morbidity and mortality.
Commenting on penalties for violators of the Code, Mrs Ummulkhairi Bobboi, an Assistant Director in NAFDAC, said any person who contravenes any provisions of the Code is guilty of offense and liable on conviction with penalties which may include seizure of products, administrative fines and closure of business premises.
Others are prosecution of recalcitrant offenders, leading to fines from N150,000 – N2,000,000 and jail term not exceeding 6 months, as appropriate.
Bobboi also disclosed that any designated products seized by the agency shall be forfeited to the Federal Government and shall be dealt with accordingly.
According to her, company promotion reduces breastfeeding and increases the use of breast milk substitute which she said must be discouraged.
She reiterated that the implementation of the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes and national regulations prohibit the unethical marketing practices that undermine breast feeding.
In his remarks, the Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Chris Isokpunwu, who described nutrition as medicine, said feeding the child properly within the first 1000 days of life brings about healthy physical and cognitive development of the child.
Isokpunwu who highlighted the various benefits of exclusive breastfeeding as well as benefits of early initiation of breastfeeding within an hour of birth, reminded mothers that BMS has nothing to offer a child instead, it poses a health risk to the child.
“BMS pose the risk of not having breast milk’s protective qualities through the high risk of contamination that can lead to life-threatening infections in young infants”, she said.
Isokpunwu, represented by Mrs Thompson Chimay, called for workplaces to adopt the national policy on maternity/paternity entitlement, stressing that this could be achieved by establishing crèches/breastfeeding corner for working mothers and creating conducive and flexible free working hours for breastfeeding mothers and caregivers.
He said that this would ensure optimal Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition and Family planning (MIYCN).