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Status of the International Code

This past week we’ve been talking about international initiatives for breastfeeding, and I wanted to be sure I shared some information about the first one, the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes published in 1981.

By its very existence, this document demonstrates the widespread popularity of infant formula.  In fact, the popularity was so widespread, health policy-makers felt action needed to be taken to stop unethical practices which added to the growing popularity.

What did the International Code do?

  • The document highlighted the importance of coordinated and evidence-based education for the general public.
  • The document identified the misinformation that happens when medical device/pharmaceutical companies market directly to consumers in addition to the dangers of  marketing programs aimed at health workers.
  • The document targeted the need for health facility policies that promote desired health outcomes.
  • The document supported high quality substitutes and appropriate labeling.
  • The document called for governments to lead by integrating policy and monitoring of the code.

Like at WHO initiatives, it is at the discretion of individual country governments to implement. Some countries moved quickly toward legislation in support of the code, others lag behind. The WHO released a status report on the code in 2011. As you read the report, keep in mind that this is essentially the state of the world thirty years after endorsement of the code.

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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