IBFAN hosted the Second World Breastfeeding
Conference in South Africa, with specific sessions on
the International Code

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The Second World Breastfeeding Conference – a platform for breastfeeding advocates, governments, civil society organisations, UN agencies, research institutions, and public interest groups to collectively call for committed action, was proudly hosted by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) in December 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. In partnership with the Department of Health, Government of Republic of South Africa, the conference also reviewed the global investment promises for maternal, infant and young child nutrition, and generated ideas for further resource mobilization and strengthening of interventions. The International Code was placed in the heart of the number of issues that were highlighted. With support from the host and other partners, IBFAN-ICDC coordinated and moderated two sessions.

The first was a technical session on Code implementation, with topics ranging from marketing tactics, the newly adopted WHA resolution, the new Guidance on the inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children, human rights, to the status of Code implementation on regional and national levels. Speakers on this topic included representatives from WHO and UNICEF headquarters, IBFAN-ICDC, IBFAN-GIFA office, IBFAN Arab World, IBFAN Brazil, and UNICEF Indonesia. The presentations all spoke to the persistence of violations, even in countries with laws, which highlighted the importance of the “quality” of the law so it effectively reflects the spirit of the Code and not just the mere letter. Presenters also spoke on how critical ongoing monitoring and enforcement are in effective Code implementation.

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The second session, a Plenary Forum, “Fighting an old battle in a new world: Tackling non-compliance of the Code and assisting countries with implementation, monitoring, and enforcement” looked at how apart from the conventional platforms of promotion – with the rise of social media, and tactics including cross-promotion, sponsorship, and public-private partnership, in addition to issues such as conflicts of interest, and barriers from trade agreements – have made Code implementation more complex than ever.  To-date, only 40 countries have laws that enact all provisions of the Code, and in many, enforcement lags. Violations are rampant, and we continue to fight an old battle in this new world. The forum generated open dialogues among WHO, UNICEF, Alive and Thrive, IBFAN-ICDC, and IBFAN national groups on specific challenges in protecting breastfeeding from aggressive and unethical marketing practices. The interactive format also generated many discussions with the audience, including government officials, NGO workers, and community youth groups who are concerned about how to protect infant and young child health policies from commercial influence.

Within the same week, IBFAN Coordinating Council (IBCoCo), the network’s highest governing body composed of representatives from the eight regions and four Global Programme offices, met in Johannesburg. The 2-day meeting allowed network members to set policy and strategic priorities, and plan for network-wide coordinated action.  Extensive discussions took place on future funding and programming direction, and how to safeguard IBFAN’s principles on avoidance of conflict of interest in the midst of the current global funding climate.