opinionBy John Chigiti
Breast feeding for a long time has been a relationship between a mother and a child. Health experts have however been raising the red flag over the rate at which mothers are not breastfeeding their children to the required age.
This could maybe be because of the lifestyles that we live today, with the busy careers and study. The mothers have therefore resorted to breast feeding supplements that are readily available in the market.
These are used to nourish the infants as a supplement or substitute to mother's breast milk. These products are produced by manufacturers, who sometimes don't take into consideration the nature of the consumers, only driven by the desire of making huge profits. They don't uphold good manufacturing standards and this has led to a lot of children developing complications.
A few years ago, such a product manufactured in Asia was found to be unfit for consumption and that it caused a lot of harm to infants. This was discovered after a lot of children had consumed the product.
As a result of the foregoing, and case point on the happenings in Asia, parliament passed a law to regulate the production of breast feeding supplements.
The law is known as the The Breast Milk Substitutes (Regulation And Control) Act, 2012, which seeks to promote breast feeding of children and control and regulate the production of breast milk supplement supplements to improve the standards of this products and improve on their safety.
Many people may question whether there is need to legislate on such so considered irrelevant issues such as breast feeding. The Legislature is one of the organs of a government.
The constitution of Kenya, article 43. (1) (c) provides that Every person has the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality. This provision bestows a duty on the state to not only provide food for its citizens, but to also ensure that the quality of the food is good and consumable.
Failure by the state to do so will constitute a breach, and any citizen can sue it for breach. This statute is therefore meant to ensure that infants have good quality breast milk supplements that will not harm them. It is a step to ensure that the state does not fail in its duties.
The main objects of the act is to provide for appropriate marketing and distribution of breast milk substitutes, safe and adequate nutrition for infants, through the promotion of breast feeding and proper use of breast milk substitutes.
Section 6 of the act prohibits the advertisement or promotion of a complementary food product. Distribution of such supplements for charity has also been prohibited.
Such distributions can only be carried out with the consent and approval of the cabinet secretary. The donated product shall not bear the brand name of the product. This is according to section 7 of the act.
To avoid a conflict of interest arising, the act provides that a health worker or a proprietor shall not accept from a manufacturer or a distributor of a designated or complementary food product a gift, financial assistance and scholarships. This is to prevent the health officers from being compromised by the manufacturers.
The act also provides in section 8 that the package of a designated or complementary food product shall contain notices, warnings and necessary information with respect to promotion of breastfeeding and proper use of breast milk substitutes in the wording.
This is to make the consumers aware of any bad effects the supplements could have on the infants. This law will be enforced by health workers and police officers.
Manufacturers, who contravene this act, shall be liable to a prison term not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding one million shillings.
The move by parliament must be applauded, however much some people may argue that the bill is unnecessary and over-stretching the boundaries and limits of legislation.
It is in compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, by the World Health Organisation, which basically agitates for what has been provided for in the act. This is the only way the government will be able to protect the health and food rights of infants.