ETHIOPIA – The federal government of Ethiopia has banned the promotion and advertisements of infant formula, due to the growing use of substitute formula undermining breastfeeding.

With the Ethiopian Food & Drug Authority (EDFA) regulating the commercialization of breastmilk substitutes, any form of promotion using radio, TV and sponsored content is no longer allowed. The ban affects a market with close to 78.4 million Birr (US$1,638,544)  worth of infant formula which was imported last year, up by 51.3pc from 2018.

Recent data on the number of companies importing baby formula is hard to come by, but close to 40 importers are active this year.

“We’re looking to discourage the use of commercial breastmilk substitutes,” said Dagim Nigatu, Senior Food Expert of the authority.

Health experts caution parents that bottle-feeding during the first six months of a child’s growth lowers the levels of immunoglobulin, a protein produced by the immune system to protect against bacteria and viruses.

Contrary to this, a study by the Ethiopian Demographic & Health Survey in 2011 revealed that the provision of food other than breastmilk to infants before the age of six months stood at 48pc. Studies conducted in recent years in cities such as Gonder and Bahir Dar found the practice of bottle feeding has grown in recent years.

Urbanization and disposable income among certain segments of society are factors behind the growing popularity of breast milk substitutes. The marketing of infant formula for children less than two years was banned in 2016. However, companies and importers continued to promote breast milk substitutes, mostly on television and radio commercials.

“Businesses have been circumventing the law. There is a need for robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that the marketing and promotion of breastmilk substitutes do not undermine breastfeeding,” says Dagim.

Importers found not complying with the rule could face the suspension of import or manufacturing permits for up to six months. Repeat offenders could see permits revoked for up to two years. Redeat Melkamu, an importer of Liptomil Plus infant formula, informed that the news of the ban was no surprise to him hence he embraced it.

“We were consulted. Although it may hurt our business a little, it’s good for the country,” she said of the decision by the authorities.

Addis Ayele, CEO of ADAG International Plc, sees the ban will have little impact on the business of importers. Demand for baby formula surpasses supply, which the foreign currency crunch has recently constrained.

Importer of Honilac brand from France, ADAG International halted the supply of its product into the country for lack of forex after five years in business. Addis says his company will resume importing baby formula once the forex problem is resolved.

According to Ethiopian Business Daily, the ban is also imposed on infant formula’s direct or indirect marketing through health institutions and professionals.

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