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Opening remarks by by Jean Dupraz, Deputy Representative, UNICEF Viet Nam at the Consultative Meeting on Assessment of Five Years Implementation of the National Decree No 21 on Marketing and Usage of Nutrition Products for Young Children

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Date: Thursday, 21 July 2011
Consultative Meeting on Assessment of Five Years Implementation of the National Decree No 21 on Marketing and Usage of Nutrition Products for Young Children
La Thanh Hotel, Ha Noi
Jean Dupraz, Deputy Representative, UNICEF Viet Nam

  • Vice-Minister of Health Dr Nguyen Viet Tien,
  • Representatives from the National Assembly and Government
  • Offices, Institutes, Hospitals, Unions, and Associations,
  • Media representatives,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNICEF and the World Health Organization, in collaboration with the Alive and Thrive initiative, are very pleased to support today’s review of Viet Nam’s compliance with the International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the five years implementation of Decree 21 on marketing and usage of nutrition products for young children.

According to Article 24 in the Convention of the Rights of the Child, every child has the right to the highest attainable standard of health. The Convention recognises that breastfeeding plays an important role in assuring every child that right and governments are obliged to ensure that all their citizens, especially parents, have good and full information on the benefits of breastfeeding.

Scientific evidence, including those reported by the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, show that breastfeeding is the single most important factor in child survival and development, more important than any vaccine, modern technology or other health interventions.

Because breastfeeding has enduring benefits, WHO and UNICEF have developed a global strategy for infant and young child feeding that recommends early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued breastfeeding for two years or more.

Yet, in Viet Nam, a large proportion of parents give formula or water to their babies in the first days of life and only one in five benefits from exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continued breastfeeding at 2 years.

Lack of exclusive breastfeeding can have life-long impacts, such as impaired intellectual and social development, and poor school performance – a very important factor for most Vietnamese parents.

So we must ask: Why is the exclusive breastfeeding rate so low in Viet Nam?  A clue is provided by the the 2010 Nutrition Surveillance survey recently carried out in Viet Nam, which found that a majority of parents now give formula or water to their babies in the first days of their life.

Certainly there has been an increase in the marketing of breast milk substitutes in Viet Nam, and it is having an impact.  Evidence from many countries shows that there is a correlation between aggressive marketing of multiple milk substitute products and decreased breastfeeding rates.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes clearly states that improper marketing and promotion of any food products that compete with breastfeeding negatively affect the choice and ability of mothers to breastfeed optimally. Therefore, typical marketing practices are not appropriate for these products.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the international body that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has stated that the public must be protected from false and biased information that persuades mothers to give up breastfeeding in favour of artificial feeding. To this end, the International Code is seen as a necessary tool which governments are obliged to implement in fulfillment of their legal obligations under the Convention.

Last month we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the adoption of the International Code. The chairperson of the international child rights committee, Yanghee Lee, has said that the monitoring of governments’ compliance alarmingly demonstrated “the lack – or rather – absence of political will to comply with the International Code.”

The International Code is a set of recommendations to regulate the marketing of artificial feeding. It is a vital part of creating an enabling environment for mothers in order to make the best feeding choice without commercial influences.

Let me emphasize that the Code is a minimum requirement, and therefore governments should adopt additional measures and make them legally binding.

Viet Nam has partially done so through the provision of Decree 21. Still, we need to find a way to implement the Code more effectively and use it to support our efforts to increase breastfeeding rates in Viet Nam.

Today’s meeting gives us the opportunity to review implementation of the Decree 21 and agree on necessary revisions and enforcement strategies to better comply with the Convention on the Right of the Child, the International Code and relevant Health Assembly resolutions.

I would like confirm, on behalf of the UN in Viet Nam, our commitment to support the Government in their efforts to revise Decree 21 and to strengthen monitoring of the International Code, in addition to other strategies to protect, support and promote breastfeeding. Let me highlight 3 specific focus areas that we believe will be instrumental in this regard.

First, for breastfeeding protection, there is a need to ensure a provision of paid maternity leave for 6 months in the National Labour Code and related guidelines.

Second, for breastfeeding support, there is a need to empower health and community workers to ensure mothers have access to skilled support and counselling on feeding practices in line with the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding and Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Thirdly, for breastfeeding promotion, there is a need to develop and implement a communication plan to address bottlenecks to successful breastfeeding and ensure updated information are available to mothers and their families.

Let me conclude by wishing you all a successful meeting today. I would like to encourage all of you to review the available information – and make your decisions – in light of the principle of the best interests of the child.

Thank you!