WHO backs the DoH over ban on milk products for Ondoy children

News release

MANILA, 2 October 2009—The World Health Organization (WHO) today applauded the Philippines Department of Health for its efforts to prevent donations of milk products to infants and young children sheltering in evacuation centres in the wake of Typhoon Ondoy.

In a statement, WHO said donations of infant formula and other powdered milk products, while well-meaning, endanger children’s lives. It was a misconception that in emergencies, many mothers could no longer breastfeed adequately due to stress or inadequate nutrition.

Dr Howard Sobel, acting WHO Representative, explained: "Stress is not likely to inhibit breast-milk production, provided mothers and infants remain together and are supported to breastfeed. Mothers who lack food or who are malnourished can still breastfeed adequately. Adequate fluids and extra food for the mother will help to sustain her health and well-being."

During emergency situations, the need for nutrition to maintain health increases, but structural damage caused by flooding jeopardizes clean water supplies, Dr Sobel said. "Contaminated water supplies increase the risk of water borne diseases. Diarrhoea, other infectious diseases and under-nutrition skyrocket. The younger the infant, the higher the risk."

Even in the absence of crises, an estimated 82,000 children die every year before their fifth birthday in the Philippines. Half of these deaths are related to common infectious diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, neonatal sepsis and measles. Malnutrition lies at the root of many of these conditions.

Exclusive breastfeeding is the single best way to avoid diarrhoea and other diseases, Dr Sobel said. Under normal circumstances, infants who are not breastfed are four times more likely to die from pneumonia and 14 times more likely to die from diarrhoea, than infants who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Breastfeeding continues to benefit children up to two years of age or beyond.

Breastmilk protects against infection through a complete complement of antibodies, immunological stimulating proteins, and nourishing vitamins. It provides the right amount of energy to further protect against malnutrition.

The WHO/UNICEF Global Infant and Young Feeding Strategy recommends that infants start breastfeeding within one hour of birth and continue breastfeeding exclusively (with no food or liquid other than breast milk, not even water) until six months of age. This policy applies in emergency situations. After six months, infants should begin to receive a variety of foods, while breastfeeding continues up to two years of age or beyond.

For more information, please contact Dr Howard Sobel, acting WHO Representative in the Philippines, at tel. nos.: +632 528 9768, +632 338 7479 or email: sobelh@wpro.who.int or who.phl@wpro.who.int