Health Minister Says Time Needed on Formula

The health minister on Friday defended the government’s failure to fine or shut down any of the private clinics that are currently illegally promoting baby formula to new mothers, saying that more time was needed for committees to “investigate” the breaches.

Although a 2009 sub-decree prohibits the promotion, gifting or sale of milk substitutes on the premises of health clinics, report­ers over the past two weeks have found that multiple clinics in Phnom Penh are blatantly breaching the ban.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng (Siv Channa)
Health Minister Mam Bunheng (Siv Channa)

Speaking on the sidelines of an event in Phnom Penh yesterday on the importance of breastfeeding, Health Minister Mam Bun­heng said that despite these in­frac­tions often occurring in plain view, more investigation was needed.

“We have a national committee and provincial and city committees to implement [the law] concerning this problem,” Mr. Bun­heng said.

“If we find that there are clinics still selling the milk we will fine them or close the clinics…. We have not closed any clinics yet because we need to investigate in more detail.”

“I appeal to all clinics that are not following the ministry’s law: Please stop immediately,” Mr. Bun­heng added.
Etienne Poirot, the chief of health and nutrition for Unicef in Cambo­dia, said that strong enforcement was needed to back up the 2009 sub-decree.

“We need to make sure that there is a strong legal framework to monitor and strengthen the im­plementation of the existing sub-decree,” he said.

“We need to make sure that there is stronger monitoring of the advertising, the marketing and the labeling of infant feeding products.”

Ultimately, however, baby formula companies and their marketing activities could be circumvented by better education about the health benefits of breastfeeding, according to Mr. Poirot.

Unicef’s research, he said, had found that grandmothers and mothers-in-law had a particularly negative influence on new mothers, often convincing them that baby formula is superior to breastmilk, when in fact the reverse is true.

“They see it as a new product and if it’s new, it’s good,” he said. “Change must come from within the family.”

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