Submission on Regulations Relating to Foodstuffs for Infants and Young Children
This submission comments on the Draft Regulations Relating to Foodstuffs for Infants and Young Children (“the Regulations”) published in terms of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act 54 of 1972.
Breastfeeding is universally acknowledged as the best source of nutrition for infants. As a result of poverty and lack of access to basic services, breastfeeding is often the only option women have available to them to adequately provide for their infant’s nutritional needs. It is important for the government to put in place a legal framework that regulates the provision of breastmilk substitutes. The Regulations are an attempt to comply with the government’s commitments under the World Health Organisation’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes of 1981 (“the Code”).
The AIDS Law Project (ALP) however notes with concern the contents of the proposed Regulations as it relates to formula feeding of infants. It would seem from the proposed Regulations that the Department of Health strongly advocates the use of breastmilk over formula feed for babies, without regard for circumstances within which it would be inappropriate to do so. This is a particularly problematic position to take in a country with an explosive HIV epidemic in which 26.5% of pregnant women using public sector health facilities tested HIV positive in 2002.
A known form of HIV-transmission is through breastmilk, in which a mother with HIV can transmit the virus to her baby through breastfeeding. It has been scientifically established, that where formula feed is available, safe, accessible and affordable, that mothers with HIV should formula feed their babies exclusively for a period of not less than six months, as to reduce the risk of transmission. The potential dangers of breastfeeding in such circumstances have been pointed out by Department of Health in its following publications: Breastfeeding & HIV – An Information Booklet for Health Workers in South Africa, Feeding of infants of HIV positive mothers and Prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission and management of HIV positive pregnant women.
The Department has also made it clear that pregnant women should be counselled about the risk of HIV transmission and all feeding options available and that each woman should be put in a position to elect the option that she deems best for her individual circumstances and her child. The ALP supports this approach as it is in line with a woman’s rights to bodily and psychological integrity, privacy, dignity, access to health care services and access to information as guaranteed by the South African Constitution.