Pakistan: Taking on the powder pushers

“Unscrupulous dealers are always trying to get children to consume a white powder that, especially when mixed with unsafe material, can be deadly,” says Simon Wright, Save the Children’s head of health.

He’s talking of course about so-called formula milk, marketed to parents of infants as an alternative for breast milk.

As a landmark Save the Children report in 2007 noted: “Almost 1.4 million children are still dying every year because they are not getting enough of their mother’s milk. Aggressive marketing by companies is one of the reasons babies are not breastfed.”

Millions of dollars are spent on marketing, directly undermining the excellent work done by organisations working on the ground to promote immediate and exclusive breastfeeding.

So the recent success in Pakistan marks an important breakthrough.

Rules to tighten formula marketing and to promote breastfeeding were developed by Government back in 2002 but these rules effectively sat on the shelf for another 8 years without getting formally notified.

Now, following a campaign by an alliance of NGOs, including Save the Children, under The Network for Consumer Protection Pakistan, the rules have finally been issued.

Cartoon posters used in the campaign by the Network for Consumer Protection Pakistan: The first cartoon signifies the problem – the companies pushing formula milk.

The second cartoon signifies the campaign’s advice to parents: Bin the formula bottle.  Babies should be exclusively breastfed from their first moments through their first six months.

Now the rules have at last been issued, the focus of the campaign effort has turned to implementation.

To ensure effective enforcement of the rules, the Government and the NGOs will work in partnership to monitor the companies.

“Government is ready to undertake all possible efforts to make breastfeeding a norm so that millions of the newborns and infants of the country can be saved”, declared Pakistan Federal Health Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin at an event to launch the new rules.

Importantly, he also committed the government to increasing investment in health.

The Save the Children team in Pakistan explain that this hard-won achievement marks not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but only the end of the beginning.

But celebrations are still called for. “Currently over 1 in 20 Pakistani children die in their very first month of life – so this campaign success will not only change lives but save them too,” says Mohammed Qazilbash, Save the Children Pakistan country director.

Leave a Reply


  • Tracey Wagner-Rizvi

    Congratulations to the Government of Pakistan on this success! This is a hard won victory for all who understand the negative influence of baby food companies on infant feeding decisions. Having been directly involved in this campaign for five years in the 90s, I know first hand the struggle that has gone into having the law passed and the rules notified.

    The Health Minister is absolutely right that it is necessary to make breastfeeding a norm once again. The reversal of the bottle feeding culture that the baby food companies have created through their marketing will require ongoing effort by both the government and NGOs. The law and the recently notified rules are tools towards this end, not ends in and of themselves.

    Too often people consider unethical baby food marketing to be an issue that has been “taken care of.” Clearly, when “almost 1.4 million children are still dying every year because they are not getting enough of their mother’s milk,” the protection and promotion of breastfeeding remain of vital importance.

    Bottle feeding is always inferior to breastfeeding, but in countries like Pakistan with low levels of literacy and often unsafe drinking water, it can make the difference between life and death. Even in the best of situations, bottle feeding contributes to illness, malnutrition and underdevelopment.

    Thank you for drawing attention to this critical issue!

  • End of Formula Fix?
    A hard hitting documentary by the name of “Formula Fix” has shown to people all over the world how babies in Pakistan suffer and die because of bottle feeding. Commercial promotion for formula falsely promises mothers healthy, happy babies by way of ads, samples, posters and especially via seduced doctors and midwives.

    Now, hopefully, with the regulations in place, the government of Pakistan can crack down on these promotional tactics. One good case in court will show all the companies that the government means business. The kind of business that puts health above profits. We hope that happens and will lead to the end of the formula fix.

  • You should get my mother started on this one… she believes that the cowlike stupidity of many of the world’s people is directly attributable to their being given cow milk in place of human milk when infants. She breastfed me for three and a half years! Given the infinite scientific data showing that breastmilk is in every way superior to formula, it’s amazing that the stuff is legal without medical necessity and a prescription.

  • Geeta

    The use of the cartoons is a good way to spread the campaign message – they make it much easier to understand. There’s also a need to educate health workers to guide parents better. Milk companies need to be more responsible too.

  • Katherine

    Please sign up to this campaign, we in the West know “Breast is Best” but unscrupulous powdered milk companies spend millions persuading mothers in Developing countries that bottle feeding is progressive! Please help stop this marketing and save babies lives.

  • Iftikhar Khalid

    Passing law and getting it implemented are two different things in Pakistan. Hope Government will be serious in implementing it.

  • Ben Boxer

    How have the powder pushers responded to tha new law? Would be interesting to know.

  • Madhuri

    The Pakistan campaign is doing fabulously well. See this fab article about the PM coming to the launch of our campaign: “Govt to provide “unprecedented” allocations for health: Gilani”

    We’ve got a great opportunity now to make big changes in the country.

    All the best!

  • Steph

    Great work. Our patience paid off. Historic announcements. Let’s hold them to it.

  • A great success story. Thanks for sharing.

  • GregD

    Ben – I want to link this blog to my facebook but no can do. any suggestions?

  • The Pakistan team will be launching a Facebook fanpage to talk about this issue and much much more very soon. @greg, why don’t you use the RSS feed application on Facebook, the feeds will automatically update to your profile.

  • Tina Qian Xiaofeng

    A very good story that includes both policy and pop mob elements as well as solidarity and is on a very important topic. A lot of inspirations and a big encouragement for China Programme. We are planning a series of campaign activities in August Breastfeeding Week and will share with you all later.

  • See the new facebook page for Every One Pakistan

    *** Pakistan EVERY ONE – Sub Bacchay Sub Loag ***

  • Munazza Siddiqui

    Thanks for blogging on the issue, Ben. Also to share with our readers here that the UN CRC Committee in its Concluding Observations and Recommendations Report 2009 has urged the Pakistan Government to make the Child Nutrition and Breast Milk Ordinance 2002 expeditiously and effectively operational (ref Breastfeeding 63).

    Additionally, the Committee has also noted with concern the decline in 6 months breastfeeding in Pakistan (ref: Breastfeeding 62).


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  • indian

    interesting . BTW, why haven’t you you submit that post to social bookmarking sites? That should bring much traffic to this page.

  • spells

    I was surfing last night and your site just popped up. (Divine intervention, or what!)

  • richard

    we could not breast feed our child and formuls ensured the premature weight did not last at dangerous levels – your argument needs balance

  • Thanks for all the comments. In response to “richard”, the campaign is not seeking to make formula illegal but to control how it is marketed. Alongside this, the campaign is also pressing for an expansion in the number of midwives, nurses and other healthcare workers. In response to all the other commenters, it’s great to see the energy behind the campaign around the world. More on the campaign is at