The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, has raised the alarm over the continued violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, BMS and national regulations by manufacturers of BMS products even as the agency warned that violators of the Code would be jailed for a period of two years and such companies or individuals forfeit the offending items on conviction.
According to the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Christianah Adeyeye, the knowledge and lack of awareness of stakeholders including the media, has also contributed to the gravity of violations currently being practised in Nigeria.
Speaking at a one-day media workshop on Compliance With the Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitute, organised by NAFDAC in collaboration with Alive and Thrive/FHI 360, Adeyeye said it is time for the regulatory agency and relevant partners to aggressively address what she described as an unpleasant situation through including effective sensitisation of all stakeholders.
Represented by the Deputy Director, Food System and Applied Nutrition, NAFDAC, Abdulsalam Ozigis, she added that for better Code compliance, it was essential to note that the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981, WHA 34.22; 1981.
"Nigeria voted for Code adoption and was, therefore, expected to implement all its provisions in their entirety as a minimum requirement for its implementation through appropriate national measures including legislation. National legislation to implement the Code may, therefore, be stronger but, certainly, not weaker than its provisions.
"Since the adoption of the Code, and in order to strengthen and further clarify some of its provisions, several subsequent relevant World Health Assembly, WHA resolutions have been adopted to ensure the achievement of the principles and aims of the Code.
For the desired compliance with the Code, the original provisions are read in conjunction with the subsequent relevant WHA resolutions," she stated.
Corroborating her views in her presentation entitled: The Overview of the Nigerian Regulations on the BMS Code and Its Provisions, Assistant Director, NAFDAC, Mrs Ummulkhairi A. Bobboi, explained that any individual who violates the Code would be imprisoned for a period not exceeding two years or fined N50, 000.00 or both while a corporate body would have to pay a fine not exceeding N100,000.00, and forfeiture of the offending items on conviction to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Bobboi who stated that it took Nigeria five years from 1981 after the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes to come up with her own National Code in 1986, said company promotion reduces breastfeeding and increases the use of breastmilk substitutes.
According to Bobboi, implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and National Regulations prohibits the unethical marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding.
"Without adequate Code implementation and enforcement, breastfeeding rates will remain low in the country, leaving infants and young children at risk of morbidity and mortality," she said
In his presentation titled: The Role of Stakeholders in the Implementation and Enforcement of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitute and National Regulations, the Deputy Director, Food System and Applied Nutrition, NAFDAC, Abdulsalam Ozigis, said the implementation of the Code was designed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and prevent health caregivers from aggressive marketing of breast milk substitute by infant food manufacturers.
According to him, "The articles of the Code provide clear information on the content of the Code and the responsibilities of individuals, institutions/organisations, general public and manufacturers for its successful implementation and monitoring," he said.
He also advised the public to desist from the promotion of breast milk substitutes as food for infants less than six months and also go for local complementary meals after six months.
On her part, Assistant Director, Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Thompson Kobata noted that BMS pose risk to universal breastfeeding practice.
"BMS pose the risk of not having breast milk's protective qualities through the high risk of contamination that can lead to life-threatening infections in young infants."
Kobata explained that exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible for most women; except for few medical conditions such as maternal medication with radioactive substances.
She also advised that workplaces should also adopt the national policy on maternity/paternity entitlement to ensure optimal Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition and Family planning (MIYCN).
According to her, this can be achieved by establishing the crèches/breastfeeding corner for working mothers and also uphold conducive and flexible free working hours for breastfeeding mum/caregiver.