SCALING Project Aims to Improve Food and Nutrition Security in Villages Across Laos

Ms. Ien with her child.
Ms. Ien with her child.

The Sustainable Change Achieved through Linking Improved Nutrition and Governance (SCALING) project aims to improve food and nutrition security in 420 villages in 14 districts in Huaphanh, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang, and Phongsaly provinces in Northern Laos with a special focus on adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and children under 5 years old.

Ms. Ien is Phunoi and 21 years old, she lives in Ngapoung village, Phongsaly district, with her husband’s family composed of five people including her two children. Their main activity is tea leaves collection and selling. “Because collecting the tea leaves takes a lot of time, I gave my first child rice and powdered milk when he was three months old. But the facilitator from the EU-funded SCALING project explained what to do for pregnant women and their babies. Now I’ve got a second child and he is nine months old. I will continue to breastfeed and give him some other food. I see he is growing very well and has good health”.

Did you know that breastfeeding within the first hour of birth (colostrum) protects newborn babies from infections and saves lives?

Breastfeeding is a natural preventive practice and protective barrier against many infectious and non-communicable diseases in both infants and mothers. Indeed, it decreases the risk of diarrhoea, respiratory diseases, middle ear infections, leukaemia and asthma among children, and contributes to the strengthening of immune systems through antibodies in the breast milk. It also reduces the risk of breast cancer in the mother.

Breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong health and reduces costs for health systems and families. Breastfeeding also improves brain development and school attendance, it is associated with higher income in adult life.

The marketing of breast milk substitutes is a threat against this natural and vital practice. The main goal of large manufacturing food companies is to market their product, no matter the means or the ends. In other words, infant formula manufacturers have a duty to elevate the sales of baby formula and convince new mothers of the benefits of their nutritional product compared to breastfeeding. Their for-profit agenda leads to adverse health impacts through misleading and faulty advertising activities.

The Government of Laos has reached an important milestone to control the damage by adopting the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes in December 2019, locally named as “Decree on Food Products and Feeding Equipment for Infants and Toddlers”.

The decree aims to protect and promote breastfeeding by prohibiting unethical marketing activities aiming to promote breast milk substitutes. By applying international and national regulations, the detrimental effects on breastfeeding success caused by baby formula promotions could be limited, preventing the increase in misperceptions among mothers about the benefits of using infant formula.

However, despite the presence of multiple laws and international legislation safeguarding the importance of breastfeeding, poor enforcement of these regulations still exists. Therefore, the nationwide implementation and support of breastfeeding can significantly contribute to the improvement of maternal health and child health, and thus reduce the burden of morbidities and mortalities occurring within these two population groups.

Laos has shown significant improvements in the nutritional status of children under 5 over the past 10 years. Nevertheless, breastfeeding rates are still low; 45% of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed (Lao Statistics Bureau & Ministry of Health, 2016).

The European Union cooperation with Laos is very much attached to the Nutrition cause with special attention to the 1,000 days. By applying a multi-dimensional approach, EU-funded projects in Laos support the implementation of the National Nutrition Strategy (2016-2025) from national to village levels, and address nutrition through behavior change, health systems strengthening, gender equality, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition-sensitive agriculture and coordination across different line ministries.

Budget support is central to European Union’s international cooperation; it involves direct financial transfers to the national treasury engaging in sustainable development reforms. In Laos, the EU cooperation supports directly the State budget to accomplish specific targets in the nutrition agenda up to 2022, including the national decree on ‘infant and young child product control’, among others (BMS decree).

The EU cooperation continues to support the nutrition community in dissemination and monitoring of the BMS Decree across the country at different levels to protect breastfeeding and promote good nutrition and wellbeing for all Lao people.