Violations of the international code of marketing of breast milk substitutes: prevalence in four countries

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Abstract

Objective

To estimate the prevalence of violations of the international code of marketing of substitutes for breast milk in one city in each of Bangladesh, Poland, South Africa, and Thailand.

Design

Multistage random sampling was used to select pregnant women and mothers of infants < or = to 6 months old to interview at health facilities. Women were asked whether they had received free samples of substitutes for breast milk (including infant formula designed to meet the nutritional needs of infants from birth to 4 to 6 months of age, follow on formula designed to replace infant formula at the age of 4 to 6 months, and complementary foods for infants aged < or = to 6 months), bottles, or teats. The source of the free sample and when it had been given to the women was also determined. 3 health workers were interviewed at each facility to assess whether the facility had received free samples, to determine how they had been used, and to determine whether gifts had been given to health workers by companies that manufactured or distributed breast milk substitutes. Compliance with the marketing code for information given to health workers was evaluated using a checklist.

Setting

Health facilities in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Warsaw, Poland; Durban, South Africa; and Bangkok, Thailand.

Subjects

1468 pregnant women, 1582 mothers of infants aged < or = to 6 months, and 466 health workers at 165 health facilities.

Main outcome measures

Number of free samples received by pregnant women, mothers, and health workers; number of gifts given to health workers; and availability of information that violated the code in health facilities.

Results

97 out of 370 (26%) mothers in Bangkok reported receiving free samples of breast milk substitutes, infant formula, bottles, or teats compared with only 1 out of 385 mothers in Dhaka. Across the four cities from 3 out of 40 (8%) to 20 out of 40 (50%) health facilities had received free samples which were not being used for research or professional evaluation; from 2 out of 123 (2%) to 21 out of 119 (18%) health workers had received gifts from companies involved in the manufacturing or distribution of breast milk substitutes. From 6 out of 40 (15%) to 22 out of 39 (56%) health facilities information that violated the code had been provided by companies and was available to staff.

Conclusion

Violations of the code were detected with a simple survey instrument in all of the four countries studied. Governmental and non-governmental agencies should monitor the prevalence of code violations using the simple methodology developed for this study.

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