NAFDAC Calls for Mutual Collaboration in Ensuring Compliance of the Breast Milk Substitute Code

Thursday 16 June 2016

By George Akor, Advocacy and Policy Advisor.

The Acting Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC), Mrs Yetunde Oni has pledged the agency’s leadership to ensure that Nigerian children are well fed from infancy with the right quality of food for their survival, mental and physical development. 

Mrs. Yetunde Oni, Acting DG of NAFDAC Nigeria listens to Dr. David Olayemi's remarks.

Mrs. Yetunde Oni made this pledge recently during a meeting between senior officials of the agency and Save the Children Nigeria at the corporate headquarters of NAFDAC in Abuja.

The meeting was to forge a sustained relationship with NAFDAC in ensuring compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The World Health Organization adopted the Code in 1981 as a global health public strategy to protect breastfeeding from aggressive promotional campaigns by milk formula manufacturers. The Code recommends restrictions on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, such as infant formula, to ensure that mothers are not discouraged from breastfeeding and that substitutes are used safely if needed.

While stating that the prevalence rate of exclusive breastfeeding of babies in Nigeria is low, the Acting Director General said the time is ripe for all actors to work together to improve strategies that safeguard infant and children feeding. “We need a lot of sensitization, enlightenment and advocacy to achieve aims for our children. There is no reason for child mortality and we should do what we can to ensure this trend ends,” she said. 

Mrs. Oni said that NAFDAC is working towards identifying health facilities where wrong information is provided to mothers on using breast milk substitutes to feed their babies. According to her, modalities are in place to ensure that health messages displayed in health facilities do not contain information on breast milk substitutes. Making a case for infant feeding, she said, “Exclusive breastfeeding should be encouraged and promoted, while complimentary feeding made from nutritious local foods should be made available for infants after 6 months.”

The Acting Director General called for continuous mutual collaboration between NAFDAC and Save the Children, from the angle of child feeding, to ensure that infant mortality is reduced in Nigeria to the barest minimum. To promote child survival and maternal health, she said it is also important to consider appropriate feeding for pregnant women.

Mrs. Oni stated that mothers need to be trained on the use of local foods for supplementary feeding for their children. “Good feeding will promote immunity of children and thus help in preventing certain ailments that may affect children,” she said.

Speaking earlier, Save the Children’s Director of Advocacy and Campaign, Dr. David Olayemi called on NAFDAC to tackle the kinds of information provided at health facilities with respect to infant feeding. “Posters, for example, not giving the right information on milk formulas often times mislead mothers,” he said.

Dr. Olayemi noted that partners like Save the Children will give NAFDAC all the support needed and within her disposal, in ensuring compliance of the Breast Milk Substitute Code. The agency on its part is expected to take leadership in this direction, he said.  With the world aiming for a fifty percent rate of exclusive breastfeeding by 2025, “Nigeria needs to learn what other countries like Ghana have done to get high rates of Exclusive Breastfeeding,” he stated.

Karina Lopez, Save the Children’s Head of Nutrition, noted that it is important to control the situation of the marketing of breastmilk substitutes as it is now before it spirals out of control. She said the milk industry has influenced people into believing that giving expensive milk formulas is better than giving breastmilk, or commercial sophisticated and packaged food is better than homemade food which is more nutritious in value and cheap to prepare. “If efforts are made to control this, then efforts on preventing incidences of malnutrition would be much easier,” she said. 

NAFDAC is a Nigerian government agency mandated by law to ensure compliance of the Code in the country. The agency is responsible for regulating and controlling the manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and packaged water.