Government of Burkina Faso adopts decree on improper but pervasive marketing of breastmilk substitutes

Sep 16 2022

After years of advocacy by multiple partners, the Government of Burkina Faso signed a revised decree in June on implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (BMS Code). The new decree replaces the country’s 1993 decree on the matter, which was not properly enforced.

Burkina Faso health worker
Companies that sell breastmilk substitutes frequently contact health workers like this nurse to convince them to give mothers free samples of the products. Such practices violate the BMS Code.

In light of growing violations of the Code in various settings, Alive & Thrive advocated to the Ministry of Health and its partners to update the decree for strengthening and enforcing the national measures that give effect to Code. The process took several years and reached a major milestone in March 2021, when a revised decree was adopted by the Ministry of Health. After more technical assistance and advocacy supported by Alive & Thrive, the President, the Prime Minister and relevant ministers signed the decree on June 9, 2022.

“The adoption of this code by the government illustrates its commitment to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, foods for infants, young children and feeding utensils,” said the Minister of Health, H.E. Robert Kargougou, in press reports in Burkina Faso.  

In West and Central Africa, five of 24 countries have no legal measures in place regarding the Code, and only six countries have legal measures that are “substantially aligned” with the Code, according to the most recent report on the status of the Code, published in 2022.

In July, UNICEF and ECOWAS published, “Regional Model Law for West and Central Africa regulating the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, foods for infants and young children and related feeding utensils,” to support legislators across the region in developing laws to implement the Code. A quick guide to the Code was updated and published in February, too. Learn about the Code's history and the sophisticated marketing tactics the BMS industry uses and explore numerous resources on our Code page.

A recently completed Alive & Thrive study of Code violations in health facilities, implemented using the NetCode protocol, shows that violations are common. The study is expected to be published within the next few months.

Among other things, the study shows that companies promote their products at hospitals and clinics, give free samples to health workers and new mothers, and give mothers coupons for their products – all clearly prohibited by the Code and the national law.

“The promotion of these products clearly undermines the efforts undertaken by the government, UN agencies, and civil society organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding,” said Constance Ching, an expert on the Code and Alive & Thrive consultant. “Studies show that the exploitative practices used by BMS companies undermine women’s confidence in breastfeeding, encourage the use of breastmilk substitutes and entice health workers to be complicit in promoting the products.”

Around the world, close to 700,000 deaths are associated with inadequate breastfeeding every year, and the unethical marketing of breastmilk substitutes is a major contributor. The promotion of BMS products has increased globally for years. In 2000, the industry sold about US$20 billion of products; in 2019, the value had skyrocketed to more than US$70 billion.

Much work remains to be done in Burkina Faso regarding the Code, however. A good law is only as good as a piece of paper if it is not properly enforced. The government needs to next act to improve Code enforcement and monitor violations.

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