Formula marketers accused of skating laws that encourage breastfeeding

The Phnom Penh Post
Erin Handley and Kong Meta

Between contractions, a woman whom Veasna* had never met pressed two products into her hands as she lay in her hospital bed. The first was a kind of “mother’s milk” for breastfeeding mothers; the second, she said, was a bottle of baby formula.

“For me, it was my first child. I felt so shocked, and I didn’t want anybody to talk to me, I only wanted my family to be with me,” she said.

Veasna could not recall the name of the product, but said the company representative gave her products she said would “help” her.

Navigating the waves of pain at the time, Veasna did not realise until later that marketing baby formula in hospitals directly to mothers in labour is illegal under Cambodian law.

Sub-decree 133, adopted from the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, made it so in 2005.

The law forbids any distributor or manufacturer from promoting infant and young child feeding products at point-of-sale, in hospitals or health centres.

That includes “providing one or more samples of the infant and young child feeding products to any person”.

An oversight committee was established last year to crack down on breaches, but more than a decade on, companies are continuing to market their product in dubious ways.

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