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Concern over infant formula use in Vanuatu
1:15 pm GMT+12, 09/01/2012, Vanuatu
More women in Vanuatu are using infant formula to feed their children, as the number of working mothers grow.

But UNICEF and Vanuatu's Ministry of Health warn a lack of import regulations, combined with general hygiene issues are proving dangerous for the babies.

Presenter: Melanie Arnost
Speaker:Shirley Tokon, Vanuatu's Health Ministry; Dr Eliab Some, Chief of Health and Sanitation, UNICEF Pacific;
Jenny Ligo, former president, Vanuatu's National Council of Women


ARNOST: In Vanuatu's urban areas, an increasing number of mothers are entering the workforce.

Shirley Tokon from Vanuatu's Health Ministry says this means women must find alternative ways to feed their babies.

TOKON: Milk formula is used a lot in the two main towns. This is compared to rural areas where they don't have to work and they can stay with their babies".

ARNOST:
But she says many of these mothers are unaware of the care that needs to be taken when using infant formula.

TOKON: Particularly with the hygiene issues, in preparation and storage of milk after its been prepared for the baby and, if they don't finish it, sometimes they just put it, lie around, and then feed the baby. They're not usually aware of the importance of maintaining storage below 5 degrees or over 60 degrees and so on to ensure no micro-organism grows.

ARNOST: The Chief of Health and Sanitation for UNICEF Pacific, Dr Eliab Some, agrees.

SOME: It's been shown that infant formula demands high hygienic practices. clean water and safe water to be used, clean bottles or caps and this is not guaranteed. Diarrhea and high infant deaths have been associated with bottle feeding and it far outweighs the benefits.

ARNOST: A 20-11 UNICEF study on the dangers of baby formula found that although the product sold over the counter by most stores, retailers rarely give advice on how to use it.

But there's another danger with infant formula too.

SOME:
At this point in time, Vanuatu has what is needed at the policy level. The food regulation of 2007 clearly empowers the government to demand the labelling of the food in the local language, but they are presently not quite enforced.

ARNOST: Ms Tokon says some stores have been caught removing the formula from packaging, and in selling it in smaller and cheaper quantities.

TOKON: Recently we've noticed more Chinese shops selling infant formula. In the recent week or so, the health inspectors from the Ministry of Health removed some repackaged baby formula from the shelf. Probably because it's expired or probably because it was too expensive and it wasn't selling, so they just repackaged it. Then the instructions on how to use it, the instructions on who can use it or a different age or stuff like that or even an expiry date or the name of the product is not on it.

ARNOST: Former President of Vanuatu's National Council of Women Jenny Ligo says, when she raised her children, she alternated between infant formula and breastfeeding.

LIGO: I find, and even when I talk with other parents, children who are breastfed they are very intelligent. When you look at these children they are very active and they are more attached to their own parents.

ARNOST: Mrs Ligo says maternity leave policy needs to be introduced, if the government is serious about encouraging breastfeeding.

LIGO: Because of the employment, both parents have to be at work. but in the long run I would like to see laws like Australia where the mother takes long maternity leave, in order to care for the child. I think this is very good and this is something I would like to encourage for Vanuatu to do. At the moment the health ministry and the department are encouraging you girls to breastfeed their children and I think I like that idea.


SOURCE: RADIO AUSTRALIA PACIFIC BEAT/PACNEWS

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