Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy new year?

I have a bit of a break from blogging over Christmas and New Year, but I thought I would make a post to wish everyone a happy new year and review the past year of blogs.

Except I will leave that for another day as we are reminded every day on the news that it is not a happy new year for some, particularly in Gaza and Israel at the present time.

So, instead, here are two related thoughts.

Firstly, please don't send formula to Gaza! We have this every time there is an emergency. People collect formula to send. We had to remind people at the time of the Asian Tsunami in 2004 that this is harmful in both the short and long term.

In the short term, donated formula is rarely distributed properly. Some mothers end up using it, thinking it is necessary rather than breastfeeding. They and those caring for orphans or separated children usually find donated milk is labelled in a language they don't understand.

In fact, if formula is labelled in the wrong language it is actually illegal to export it from the UK, including as a donation. We had to resort to invoking the law in the case of the Tsunami. See:

All the same, formula found its way to places like Sri Lanka. The Health Minister of Sri Lanka is quoted in a briefing paper from the Emergency Nutrition Network (of which we are members), released to raise awareness of the dangers of formula to Gaza.

This is what the Health Minister had to say:

---quote begins
Although Sri Lanka is a country with a high exclusive breastfeeding rate, there was a myth among mothers about the inability to produce enough breastmilk when under stress. A major problem was the distribution of infant formula and feeding bottles by donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), without the appropriate controls, to breastfeeding mothers. Donors acted emotionally withoutany scientific basis, disregarding the dangers of artificial feeding in disasters. Additionally the mass media was very keen on feeding babies so made a public appeal to supply artificial milk and feeding bottles. The Ministry of Health faced many challenges to ensure that breastfeeding mothers continued to do so and did not swap to unsustainable and potentially dangerous infant formula.

Statement from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
---quote ends

You can download the briefing at:

Long-term effects can be devastating and last a decade. After the Armenian earthquake in 1988, breastfeeding rates fell from 64% to 20%. My colleague, Susanna Harutyunyan was interviewed in the Armenia Weekly about this and said: "During the early 1990s Armenia was provided with infant formula as humanitarian aid, and the availability of free infant formula was one of the most obvious reasons for the dramatic decrease in breastfeeding."

You can listen to an interview I conducted with Susanna at the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Europen meeting in 2006 in our broadcasts section:

At the time of the Kosovo crisis when many refugees moved into Albania, our partners there in the IBFAN set up baby friendly corners. Mothers experiencing problems with lactation were helped to relactate. Babies that needed to be bottle fed, where fed in a separate area with locally sourced formula, labelled in the correct language, and prepared hygienically.

The Emergency Nutrition Network has training manuals for field staff working in emergency situations, which can be found at:

Please support the Emergency Nutrition Network, or if you want to send a donation that will go to humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, you might like to send them to UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). See:

Secondly, I don't want to discuss the politics of what is happening in Gaza here, but I don't think think wishing peace and security for all should be contentious. The Avaaz campaign is calling for action from the international community to help achieve that. You can find out more and sign the petition if you wish at:

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