Sri Lanka will lead the campaign for universalizing breastfeeding in the world, said the first lady of Sri Lanka, Mrs Shiranthi Rajapaksa
Speaking at a dinner organized to honour the delegates of the One Asia Breastfeeding Partners Forum 6, being held at Colombo from 18-21st November 2009, support to women is key to ensuring optimal infant and young child feeding practices, the most important intervention in reducing infant and child mortality and preventing child malnutrition. More than 80 delegates from 18 countries participated in the Forum which highlighted the issues plaguing the breastfeeding scenario across Asia – commercial interference in Infant and Young Child Feeding. Participants adopted a “Colombo Declaration on Infant and Young Child Feeding” calling upon all concerned for some urgent actions.
“Breastfeeding during emergencies is a singular challenge,” informed Dr. Arun Gupta, Regional Coordinator of International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia, “since it allows commercial interests to promote their products in the name of humanitarian aid, charity or donations.”
Sri Lanka which did not have disaster management during the tsunami was successful in meeting out the challenges during the conflict when it provided shelter to more than 300,000 people in the IDP camps. “We had stopped the donation of infant milks and feeding bottles post the tsunami, and during the conflict. However, we need to take still stronger action to prevent and manage malnutrition,” said Dr. Vinya Ariyarathane, executive director of Sarvodaya.
The malnutrition level was very high at 35%  in the IDP areas during the month of March, when the conflict ended. It has since come down significantly due to the successful intervention of the government and UNICEF. Currently the IDP situation is more than favourable and the refugees are slowly being resettled.
Sri Lanka has been the leader in breastfeeding but there have been concerns over the marketing of fortified foods for infants and young children.
 “Sri Lanka has always been a breastfeeding culture, and the government works towards making it possible for all women to breastfeed successfully,” said the Health Minister, Mr. N. de Silva, at the inauguration of Forum 6. Today, in spite of having faced conflict situations for decades, Sri Lanka has some of the best indicators in infant and child mortality, low figures of malnutrition and high rates of early initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding along with good complementary feeding for the 6-24 month age group.
The Colombo Declaration on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF), developed by the delegates over four days of deliberation, highlighted the need to prevent interference by the commercial sector in IYCF.
“Sri Lanka recognized early how manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes interfere with breastfeeding, and made a law to restrict them even before the International Code for Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes was developed by the UN”, said Mr. de Silva.
The interference by the corporate sector is particularly visible in responses to emergency and disaster situations, when companies, as well as donor agencies flood the disaster zone with unsolicited breastmilk substitutes, infant foods, weaning foods, cereal foods, feeding bottles, and so on. The delegates called for an immediate ban on such unsolicited donations, as well as a ban on all promotions of such foods at all levels, including to health personnel.
The delegates at the Forum also called upon nations to mainstream breastfeeding support in national IYCF policies as well as policies for disaster management, through training of all categories of disaster management personnel, health personnel and mobilisers and motivators at the community level to ensure that all women are supported to breastfeed adequately in all situations.
Breastfeeding and complementary feeding is also being threatened by various policies of globalization, where health and nutrition are becoming tradeable commodities and malnutrition is becoming a market for food and pharmaceutical corporations. Rejecting marketing solutions for malnutrition, the Delegates stated that commercial sector should not be involved in the decision-making process at national and international levels as this represents conflict of interest. In the Joint Statement on Conflict of Interest in Child Health and Nutrition they demanded that national governments recognize conflicts of interest and develop mechanisms to deal with them. They also demanded that the United Nations, especially UNICEF and WHO take strong steps to prevent conflict of interest and base their recommendations on evidence that is independent of commercial interests. They also demanded that the recommendations of all UN bodies should be harmonized with the International Code for Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent WHA resolutions in the area of child health and nutrition.