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WHO and UNICEF encourage women to breast feed even with COVID-19; warn against marketing of harmful breast-milk substitutes

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Active COVID-19 virus has not, to date, been detected in the breast milk of any mother with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Breast milk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses. A new report by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) has encouraged women to continue to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they have confirmed or suspected COVID-19.  A statement from the Geneva headquarters of the WHO explains that ‘’while researchers continue to test breast milk from mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, current evidence indicate that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding or by giving breast milk that has been expressed by a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19. It adds that the numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus. It is not safer to give infant formula milk. The statement, therefore, warned producers of harmful breast-milk substitutes to halt their production forthwith. It also noted with concern that despite efforts to contain the harmful substitutes, some countries have not lived up to their responsibility of protecting parents from misleading information. The statement states further that: ‘’The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for stronger legislation to protect families from false claims about the safety of breast-milk substitutes or aggressive marketing practices. Breast milk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses.  Of the 194 countries analysed in the report, 136 have in place some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly (the Code). Attention to the Code is growing, as 44 countries have strengthened their regulations on marketing over the past two years. Only 79 countries prohibit the promotion of breast-milk substitutes in health facilities, and only 51 have provisions that prohibit the distribution of free or low-cost supplies within the health care system. However, the legal restrictions in most counties do not fully cover marketing that occurs in health facilities. Only 19 countries have prohibited the sponsorship of scientific and health professional association meetings by manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes, which include infant formula, follow-up formula, and growing up kinds of milk marketed for use…

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