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WHO 154th Executive Board Meeting, Geneva, 22 January – 27 January 2024

Ellie Mulpeter of INFACT USA will be heading to Geneva later this month alongside her global colleagues of IBFAN to advocate for a resolution to protect families and babies from predatory digital marketing practices of breastmilk substitute (BMS) companies.

As summarized by colleague Patti Rundall of IBFAN on her blog, https://www.babymilkaction.org/archives/40393:

“2024 is a reporting year for  Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition so Digital Marketing will be discussed under the “Healthier Populations” agenda item.   

Digital marketing is fast becoming the predominant source of exposure to promotion of baby feeding products globally. In 2022, WHO’s report on digital marketing of breast-milk substitutes  described its cross border extent and power. It is now totally out of control and parents and carers everywhere are targeted by paid  ‘influencers’ and other deceptive schemes with information that undermines WHO and national health recommendations and disempowers parents.

A WHA Resolution supporting the  WHO Guidance on digital marketing of breast-milk substitutes  would  send a  clear message to all WHO Member States that there is a political expectation to implement it.  Implementation of this Guidance will have zero cost to governments, yet the lowering of healthcare costs and stronger, more able workforces will benefit national and family economies.”


A proposed WHA Resolution would read as follows:

CONCEPT NOTE:

It is estimated that over 800,000 child deaths occur each year due to inadequate breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is considered to be one of the most important interventions that exists to protect the health of infants and young children. Unfortunately, the active promotion of breast-milk substitutes worldwide leads to unnecessary and improper use of these products and dissuade families from breastfeeding.


While implementation of the Code of marketing of breast-milk substitutes has limited certain types of promotions, new digital marketing strategies, including targeted ads appearing on pregnant mothers’ cell phones, clandestine participation in online baby clubs, or coaxing mothers to market formula to one another, were not possible when the Code was written. WHO highlighted the widespread exposure and power of these digital tools in 2022 (https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240046085), noting that digital marketing is the dominant form of marketing in many countries and that new approaches to regulate and enforce the Code are needed.


The Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly, in decision WHA75(21) on maternal, infant and young child nutrition, requested that WHO develop guidance for Member States on regulatory measures aimed at restricting the digital marketing of breast-milk substitutes. WHO published draft guidance on 30 August and will be publishing the final guidance in early November.

It is important that the World Health Assembly takes action on this guidance and calls upon all Member States to take immediate action to address this growing challenge to breastfeeding. The collective weight of the Assembly is needed to ensure that the guidance not become just another set of recommendations from the secretariat. The nature
of digital marketing is inherently transnational and requires urgent collective action.


Xxxxx proposes to lead a Member States in developing a resolution to be adopted at the Seventy-seventh WHA in May 2024. Such a resolution would endorse the WHO guidance and call for various implementation steps to give immediate effect to the recommendations made. An initial draft of the resolution is below.

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