KARACHI, Jan 12: Senior health professionals, parliamentarians and members of civil society on Friday urged the Sindh government to immediately bring a bill in the assembly against formula milk.

Participating in a seminar, they said that nothing could be done meaningfully in the absence of a legal cover to children’s right to breastfeeding and good nutrition while there was no check on marketing of breast milk substitutes by vested interests.

The seminar on “Saving lives of newborns by early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding” was organised by the Health, Education and Literacy Programme (Help) and the South Asian Infant Feeding Research Network (Saifrn).

Among others, provincial minister for rehabilitation Haji Muzaffar Ali Shujra and MPA Pitanbar Sewani attended the meeting and assured the forum that they would ensure an early introduction of the draft bill on promotion and protection of breastfeeding.

Help chairperson Prof D.S. Akram said after a long struggle Pakistan had been able to enact national legislation called “Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Ordinance” in 2002.

However, the pace of making rules and regulations under the ordinance remained slow, she said, adding that the main regulator — Infant Feeding Board — notified by the federal government in 2006 completed its term with no output, while the rules could be notified in 2009.

The worst thing, she continued, happened in the shape of devolution requiring the transfer of health sector activities to the provinces.

The ordinance had already become a mere piece of paper in the absence of required validation by the competent authorities while the provinces, excluding Punjab, too were ignoring the issue of promulgation of a new ordinance or having legislation through the assemblies for their respective jurisdiction, she said.

The results of prolonged legal inactivity had gone in the favour of exploitative forces and an uninterrupted marketing of breast milk substitutes continued, she added.

Saleem Abbasi of Saifrn spoke on determinants of infant feeding practices in Pakistan.

He said that all infant and young child feeding indicators in Pakistan were undesirably low and needed to be improved.

Dr Jamal Raza, general secretary of the Pakistan Paediatric Association, said that Pakistanis collectively spent on average Rs7 billion yearly on substitutes and infant formulas.

Dr Fehmina Arif of the Dow University of Health Sciences said optimal feeding practices included initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of life, continued breastfeeding for two years of life or beyond and introduction of appropriate complementary feeding after six months of age.

Zekarias Getachew of Unicef, Dr Yasmeen Suleman, Dr Ambreen Saad, Imtiaz Kamal, and Qari Shehryar also spoke.