After removing milk subsidies and losing them… Breastfeeding is the solution?

A beautiful sunset

Crises follow one another, plunging the Lebanese further into destitution and poverty. Complex decisions are paid for by the citizen, the latest of which is that of the abolition of subsidies for infant formula in the face of the inability of hundreds of families to find an alternative.

In February 2022, the nutrition sector in Lebanon participated in a nutrition survey led by the Ministry of Health, supported by 9 partners led by UNICEF and Action Against Hunger, which took place in the third quarter 2021 and included 3,550 children and 9,200 women of childbearing age, and showed the suffering of around 200,000 children. Below five years, one of the forms of malnutrition, such as anemia, stunting (stunting) and wasting disease. Projections indicate that these numbers will increase significantly unless rapid joint action is taken.

The results of the survey in Lebanon showed that 9 out of 10 children, aged 6 to 23 months, do not receive the minimum acceptable diet necessary for their health, growth and development.

According to the survey, about 7% of children in Lebanon suffer from severe stunting and 1.8% of all children suffer from acute malnutrition, while 41% of children suffer from anemia.

On the other hand, 70% of Lebanese children are not exclusively breastfed, while more than 60% of newborns are breastfed early, but only 47% of them continue to be breastfed for 23 months.

Noting that in 2015, the country director of the World Vision Foundation in Lebanon, Dr. Reyn, indicated that “the percentage of exclusive breastfeeding is only around 14.7% for children under six month”.

However, the problem is not the removal of the subsidy, but rather the availability of milk in pharmacies. During a tour of some pharmacies in the regions of Zalka and Jal El Dib, the situation seems the same: “We have not yet received the milk after the decision to remove the subsidy.” All the pharmacists share the same answer, confirming that they have not yet received a new package at the new price, pending delivery of the required quantity.

While some pharmacies received three packages which are still subsidized, and the price of one package is still 160,000 Lebanese pounds. Awaiting receipt of new quantities at the unjustified price.

In this regard, the head of the Pharmacists’ Union, Joe Salloum, explains to An-Nahar: “The pharmacies have not yet received the milk at the unsubsidized price because the importers have not yet been able to import the quantity, and the step of lifting the subsidy came to encourage the importer to import, and it takes him a week to order it.”

Al-Naqeeb expects the milk to be available after about two weeks in pharmacies, while demand remains to be monitored, especially in light of the financial crisis which is suffocating many families.

A parent stands in line at the pharmacy and asks the pharmacist, “Has the diaper box arrived?” The pharmacist replied: “It is supposed to be received within the next two days.” Asked about getting milk for his one-year-old son, he confirmed to An-Nahar that “two months ago he had to replace his formula milk with Nido milk because it is cheaper and more wholesale, and that would be the best option for him in light of the previous milk shortage and the current high price.”

“There is no substitute for breast milk. This slogan, launched by the Ministry of Health in 2015, is perhaps the most appropriate solution for children under six months today, after the decision to end subsidies for infant formula and the deterioration of more and more living conditions.

What are the risks of a child not receiving the required nutrition, especially since 70% of Lebanese live below a multidimensional poverty line?

The head of the pediatric service of the Lebanese American University Medical Center – Rizk Hospital, Dr. Gerard Wakim, confirms to “An-Nahar” that “we are facing a real problem for mothers who cannot breastfeed, so we had to keep support for infant formula until at least one year old, so that we do not face problems. child who does not receive the necessary nutrition, knowing that we are starting to see more and more children suffering from a lack of vitamins and nutrition due to the economic crisis.

Regarding the health risks resulting from malnutrition in children, Wakim lists the most important, which are calcium and vitamin deficiency, developmental delay, problems of consciousness and perception, and their impact on their ability to ‘learning. Breast milk contains vitamins, and most importantly, it contains immunoglobin (IgA), which boosts infant immunity and protects against viruses, germs and infections, and cannot be obtained from milk by powder. Therefore, we recommend breastfeeding between 6 months and 9 months, in addition to complementary feeding at the sixth month, which supports the necessary and necessary nutrition for the child.

However, even breastfeeding is linked to psychological conditions and social pressures, and this is what Wakim talks about, “because breastfeeding today comes with pressures and anxiety due to the crisis economic and social, which translates into an insufficient supply of milk It is very important to talk about this aspect as well, and the State must intensify its efforts to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and guarantee appropriate conditions and encourage breastfeeding mothers.

Are we seeing a breakthrough on the infant formula file, or will the crisis continue to spin in the same whirlwind as long as it is tied to Central Bank approval? Will Lebanese children be able to eat properly once the subsidy is lifted? The next few days will reveal much.


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