“Misguided propaganda on infant feeding should be punished as the most miserable form of sedition; these deaths should be regarded as murder.” - Dr. Cicely Williams, 1938
May 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes - by an almost unanimous vote of the Member States of the World Health Assembly (WHA). The Code was the result of a lengthy, participatory process over several years, with intense advocacy from both grassroots campaigners around the world and health care providers and governments from states in the process of decolonization.
The document that many of us pore over to find guidance on the day-to-day ethical challenges can seem remote and far away from the practical challenges. Yet the legal terms and concepts within the Code and subsequent relevant resolutions are born out of the most practical need to protect families at a time when their health is threatened directly by commercial interests.
The urgency that Dr. Cicely Williams expressed in her 1938 speech to the Singapore Rotary Club remains as urgent and real today, if not more so. Despite 40 years of advocacy and significant progress in implementing Code legislation around the world, the same images that moved health care providers, governments, and activists to action in the 1970s are being taken today.
Image 1 - Nurses in South Africa in the 1950s (https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Nestle-Milk-nurses-in-South-Africa-c-1950_fig3_32898323)
What does the Code look like today and what will it look like in the next 40 years? Tune into the Global Breastfeeding Collective’s event on May 21 for a look at where we have been and what the future looks like. https://www.globalbreastfeedingcollective.org/40th-anniversary-international-code-marketing-breast-milk-substitutes-event?fbclid=IwAR1Jhbyg96qbTyIrGfM7fHzbSk31itE-aYJQywAyLEd5UOwCQcMCuzsaYXs
Williams, Cicely. 1938. Of Milk and Murder. https://archive.wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/1939_Cicely_Williams_Milk_and_murder.pdf
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Last Updated: September 2018