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MANILA, The Philippines | 28 November 2013

Joint UNICEF/WHO press release:


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UN agencies stress need for breastfeeding support to mothers in affected areas – UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) today called on those involved in the response to the Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) disaster to promote and protect breastfeeding to avoid unnecessary illness and deaths of children.

The estimated 12 000 babies to be born in the worst-affected areas this month need to be exclusively breastfed, meaning that they get nothing but breast milk, which protects them from potentially deadly infections. Around one third of babies in the area born before the disaster who are less than six months old are already exclusively breastfed, and nine out of ten were at least partially breastfed before the emergency. The mothers who were doing at least some breastfeeding need to be supported to transition to exclusive breastfeeding.

“The uncontrolled distribution and use of infant formula in emergency situations like this—where there are serious water and sanitation challenges and other disease risks—is extremely dangerous. Supporting breastfeeding is one of the most important things we can do to protect babies in areas of the Philippines hit by the typhoon,” says Dr Julie Hall, WHO Representative in the Philippines.

UNICEF and WHO prioritise the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding as a life-saving measure for babies everywhere, and especially in emergencies.

“With the right support—from a health worker, a counsellor or another mother—a woman who is already doing some breastfeeding can increase her milk production within days just by feeding her baby more frequently,” says Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.

During emergency situations, disease and death rates among babies and children are higher than for any other age group; and the younger the child, the higher the risk, leaving babies under six months most vulnerable. Babies who drink formula made with water that is contaminated with germs or given with an unsterile bottle or teat, can become very sick with diarrhoea and die within a matter of hours.

Feeding babies with formula in emergencies must only be considered as a last resort, when other safer options—such as helping non-breastfeeding mothers to reinitiate breastfeeding, finding a wet nurse or pasteurized breast milk from a breast milk bank—have first been fully explored.

Only a relatively small number of infants under six months affected by this disaster—estimated to number around 6 600—are not breastfed at all. These babies should be urgently identified, their feeding situation assessed, and be provided with skilled support and the safest feeding option.

UNICEF and WHO strongly urge all who are involved in funding, planning and implementing the emergency response in the Philippines to avoid unnecessary illness and death by promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Community leaders are called upon to monitor and report any donations that may undermine breastfeeding.


About WHO

World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. For more information, visit


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.


For further information, please contact:

Rita Ann Wallace, UNICEF New York, Tel +1-212-326-7586, Mobile +1 917-213-4034,

Zafrin Chowdhury, UNICEF, Manila, Mobile + 63 917 867 8366,

Kate Donovan, UNICEF, Tacloban, Mobile: + 63 917 502 1747,

Denise Shepherd-Johnson, UNICEF, Manila, Mobile: + 63 917 464 7028,

Liv Lawe-Davies, WHO, Manila, Mobile: +63 915 896 6345,

Gregory Härtl, WHO, Geneva, Mobile: +41 79 203 6715,