Officials from the World Health Organization and four ministries met yesterday in Phnom Penh to discuss ways to better implement a sub-decree passed in 2005 that prohibits the promotion of formula milk.
Health experts say that babies below six months who consume formula milk are more susceptible to illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia as it lacks the nutrient content present in real breast milk.
Yet formula milk companies continue to broadcast advertisements on television, give out free samples without permission and use labels with baby-friendly pictures like bears.
“In Cambodia, formula usage, unheard of a decade ago, now exposes ten percent of our children to its dangers,” said Dr Pieter van Maaren, country representative of the World Health Organization, in a speech to officials from the Ministries of Health, Commerce, Information, and Industry. “Its reach is reflected in rampant violations of the sub-decree.”
Dr van Maaren said advertisements persisted in the media while companies still give free samples to families and incentives for health workers to sell products. “The aggressive marketers of formula are reaching unsuspecting families through the public health system,” he said.
Formula-fed children die and get sick more often from some diseases including diarrhea and pneumonia, he added.
Babies below six months old should only be fed breast milk, said Koum Kanal, director of the National Maternal and Child Health Center.
Mr Kanal said during the workshop that representatives from the Health, Commerce, Information, and Industry, Mines and Energy Ministries had identified gaps in implementing the sub-decree.
“We have many difficulties to [get] formula factories to accept our concept,” Mr Kanal said, noting that the Health Ministry could give permission for manufacturers to promote approved products.
A row of shops opposite Kandal Market in Phnom Penh yesterday sported awnings advertising the formula milk brands France Bebe and Dumex on posters showing a smiling toddler.
Som Chansokunthea, 21, a shop assistant at the market, said that about once every year, milk formula companies give her business free products in return for promoting the milk formula.
“They want me to promote their products and put them in the front,” Ms Chansokunthea said.