Prime Minister and Acting Health Minister Hon. James Marape has voiced deep concern over the alarming rate of malnutrition among infants and young children in Papua New Guinea. This issue was addressed during the parliamentary session of Wednesday, August 9, 2023, as he presented the Infant and Young Children’s Food Supply (Control) Bill 2023. The bill was approved by Parliament 82-0 following extensive consultations that have taken place since 2011.
The Infant and Young Children’s Food Supply (Control) Bill 2023 aims to replace the outdated Baby Feeds Supplies (Control) Act (1977) and take significant steps towards promoting and safeguarding the nutritional well-being of infants and young children. The primary objective is to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition by establishing enhanced standards for feeding products, regulating the distribution of commercially-available complementary foods, and supervising the activities of relevant dealers.
Expressing his deep concerns, Prime Minister Marape noted a worrisome trend of improper usage of feeding supplies without appropriate prescriptions, leading to detrimental effects on the health of infants and young children. He also highlighted the lack of proper regulation surrounding complementary feeds and infant formula supplies in the market.
The pressing need for a new legislative framework was underscored by survey findings that underscored the gravity of the issue. These findings indicated that nutrition-related factors were directly or indirectly responsible for a staggering 2.5 million deaths annually among children below the age of five. Over two-thirds of these fatalities were linked to inappropriate feeding practices that occurred within the first year of life.
The survey further revealed that malnutrition stands as a crucial underlying factor contributing to poor health outcomes in Papua New Guinea. Disturbingly, 49.5 percent of children aged 0 to 59 months are affected by stunting, while 14.1 percent suffer from wasting, with 6.4 percent facing severe wasting. Additionally, 13.7 percent of children were identified as overweight. Notably, stunting prevalence is notably higher in rural areas at 51.3 percent, compared to 36.5 percent in urban regions. However, no significant disparities were observed in wasting prevalence between rural and urban locations.
The Infants and Young Children’s Food Supply (Control) Bill 2023 encompasses the following key provisions:
• Establishes a robust legal framework to regulate access to feeding products based on medical prescriptions and introduces licensing requirements for distributors, labelling standards for feeding products, and promotion guidelines.
• Institutes an advisory committee of experts to collaborate closely with the Food and Sanitation Council.
• Defines stringent standards for breast milk substitutes.
• Prohibits deceptive information, misleading labelling, and unjustified promotion of feeding products.
• Implements a licensing system for manufacturers and distributors of baby feed products and apparatus.
• Appoints inspectors responsible for ensuring compliance by dealers of baby feed products and apparatus.
• Ensures strict adherence to the law’s provisions and any directives issued by the Department of Health. Non-compliance constitutes an offense and may incur fines or imprisonment.
“The Infant and Young Children’s Food Supply (Control) Bill 2023 signifies a crucial stride toward addressing the pervasive issue of infant malnutrition in Papua New Guinea,” Prime Minister Marape said.
“This demonstrates my government’s unwavering commitment to improving the health and well-being of the nation’s youngest citizens, and underscores our dedication to achieving a brighter and healthier future for all.”