The Ministry of Health has put an end to the sale and promotion of infant formula at health facilities. Despite companies wanting to distribute the formula to disadvantaged mothers under the guise of charity, the ministry firmly rejected their requests.

This development was announced at a workshop held on June 30, with a focus on improving infant and child feeding practices. Organised in conjunction with Helen Keller International Cambodia and UNICEF, the event saw roughly 100 ministry officials and other relevant figures participate.

During the event, Chea Mary, manager of the National Nutrition Programme (NNP) under the Ministry of Health, voiced her concerns, highlighting the dangers of infant formula given its strict requirements for hygiene and correct preparation.

“If improperly prepared, it can result in children suffering from diarrhoea, or in the worst-case scenario, even cause loss of life. We won’t permit the sale or promotion of infant formula at health facilities,” she said.

Mary reiterated the government and partner organisations’ commitment to the health of Cambodian children. They continue to endorse appropriate practices such as breastfeeding, suitable supplementation, and a healthy diet.

Chum Sen Veasna, programme manager at Helen Keller Cambodia, clarified the legal position.

“According to Sub-Decree No 133, the health ministry cannot allow the sale or promotion of infant formula at health facilities. The ministry prohibits any involvement of health workers with infant formula companies, and regularly educates about the ban on related products,” he said.

“Instances of sales are isolated to a small number of individuals. Generally, health workers always advise mothers to breastfeed their infants. Any violations should be reported to the health ministry via the sub-decree 133 operation team, supported with specific evidence. The ministry will keep this information confidential and act accordingly,” Veasna continued.

He further commented on the combined efforts of the ministry and development partners to advocate for breastfeeding. He noted the necessity of mothers understanding its benefits and not being swayed by corporate advertising.

“The sale and use of infant formula can have health implications for infants and children, as they need exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

“After this period, breastfeeding should continue until at least two years of age, supplemented with suitable foods like porridge, vegetables, and meat for healthy physical and mental growth. Breast milk is the best food for infants and children,” he said.

However, according to the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2022, breastfeeding rates in Cambodia have plummeted to 50 per cent.

Chan Phalkun, a mother whose son experienced issues due to baby formula, shared her concerns. She voiced her agreement with the ministry’s recommendations and prohibition, yet acknowledged the prevalence of formula distribution, especially in larger private maternity clinics.

“Despite the prohibition, I see baby formula being given out as ‘gifts’ to mothers at private clinics, usually post-delivery. This seems to be a marketing strategy disguised as a gift,” she said.

As a mother affected by the use of baby formula, she implored hospitals and private maternity clinics to consider the issues caused by baby formula. She also appealed for more education on the benefits of breastfeeding.