Eight Chinese journalists traveled to Viet Nam to learn more about successful efforts there in creating a positive environment for breastfeeding. Alive & Thrive and the China Development Research Foundation co-organized the exchange visit to enable the journalists to advocate for replicable models in China, where the exclusive breastfeeding rate stands at 20.8%, far below the WHO recommended rate of 50%.
The journalists, from seven major news agencies including The Paper and Global Times, along with representatives from KREAB Strategic Communication Consultancy and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, participated in the learning exchange, getting insight into A&T’s work as well as breastfeeding policy objectives and the potential to improve infant feeding practices at scale.
“A central part of Alive & Thrive’s strategy is building the capacity of those with influence, like journalists, to spread best practices in maternal nutrition and breastfeeding,” said Roger Mathisen, Alive & Thrive’s regional program director for Southeast Asia. “Bringing journalists from China to Viet Nam allows them to learn firsthand approaches that have worked here, and draw inspiration for adapting these solutions to China’s challenges with breastfeeding.”
Over the past ten years, through collaboration with numerous stakeholders, the Government of Viet Nam has put into place legislation that monitors breastmilk substitute advertising and supports working mothers with paid maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks, and workplace lactation rooms. Combined with communication and information dissemination, these efforts have resulted in a shift in national breastfeeding behavior to reflect WHO standards and better nourish infants and young children.
Journalists toured the Da Nang Hospital for Women and Children to learn firsthand about the Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding initiative, a model in which the Ministry of Health designates hospitals with breastfeeding-friendly environments. After learning about human milk banks, which provide vulnerable infants access to the benefits of breastmilk, they next visited a sub-rural commune health center, which employs the successful “Little Sun” social franchise and social behavior change communication model. There, they participated in a counseling session to understand how parents receive nutrition and feeding information.
In addition to service delivery sites, journalists met with several advocacy groups, which highlighted the crucial and multifaceted roles of advocacy in Viet Nam’s successful policy reform. Journalists engaged in a roundtable conversation with representatives from the Da Nang Municipal Department of Health, nutrition counselors, mothers, and families, and also discussed Viet Nam’s processes to enact legislation for maternity protection and control the marketing of breastmilk substitutes with representatives from the National Assembly’s Institute for Legislative Studies, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, and the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labor. Also emphasized was the importance of mass media, social media, and peer support in the advocacy agenda. The social media group “Betibuti,” a mother-to-mother group with 250,000 members, facilitated a forum with journalists where breastfeeding mothers shared their experiences and underscored the need to raise public support to fight for policy change.
Alive & Thrive will continue to collaborate with the China Development Research Foundation to promote breastfeeding through policy advocacy and communications, working with media agencies and journalists to convey key messages to Chinese families and help them make informed decisions about infant nutrition.