Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Dominican Republic at the CRC: High Rate of Maternal Mortality and Low Rates of Breastfeeding

On January 12th and 13th, 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child considered the combined third to fifth periodic report of the Dominican Republic on the situation of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the country. The delegation of the Dominican Republic was led by Mr. Gertrudis Alberto Padilla Vicioso, responsible for the Public Policies Department of the National Council on the Child, Mrs. Brígida Sabino Pozo, responsible for the Late Registration Central Unit of the Central Electoral Board, and Mrs. Khaterine Urbáez Martínez, Minister Counselor for Human Rights to the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

On this occasion, IBFAN presented an alternative report to inform the CRC Committee on the situation of infant and young child feeding in the Dominican Republic.

General overview of breastfeeding in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic presents low rates of early initiation to breastfeeding (65%), exclusive breastfeeding under 6 months (6.7%) and continued breastfeeding at 2 years of age (25%). Such performance is alarming and questions the quality of the information received by mothers in health care facilities, considering that almost high rate of institutional delivery in the country 98%). It is also of concern that the use of infant formula is widespread among the population and that more than half of the newborns are fed with food other than breastmilk even before being breastfed at all.

In addition, the National Breastfeeding Commission lacks funds to implement the National Strategic Plan for Maternal and Infant Mortality Reduction and to perform its monitoring function on the application of Ley 8-95 implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which leads to frequent Code violations.

Besides, only 6% of the hospitals and maternities were ever certified as “Baby-Friendly” and thre is no follow-up of the BFHI requirements in the certified facilities. IBFAN’s alternative report also stressed the lack of regular training of health professionals on HIV and infant feeding.

The scarce maternity protection at work is another factor which could explain the low breastfeeding rates in the Dominican Republic. Finally, the Guidelines for Infant Feeding in Emergencies were issued in 2010 but are not effectively implemented and, consequently, the baby-food industry keeps distributing and donating its products during emergencies.

Discussion on infant and young child feeding

The Committee specifically addressed the issue of neonatal and maternal mortality, and the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the Dominican Republic. It highlighted that although 80% of the maternal deaths are preventable, the rate of maternal mortality is still high, which seems difficult to understand in regard to the high percentage of institutional deliveries (97%). The Committee also expressed concerns about the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding rate under 6 months (8%) as well as about the early introduction of solid and semi-solid food which can lead to chronic malnutrition.

The Dominican delegation provided some data related to the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Maternal and Infant Mortality Reduction and mentioned the recent creation of a human milk bank as activities by the government in order to promote breastfeeding.

The Committee reminded the delegation that when given adequate pre- and perinatal support, nearly 100% of mothers can breastfeed their baby. The Committee welcomed the existence of human milk bank, but clearly stated that breastfeeding support is even more important.

The Dominican delegation pointed out that the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding is one of the main concerns of the Dominican health system and that the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Maternal and Infant Mortality Reduction will hopefully lead to its improvement as well as to the improvement of the rates of neonatal and maternal mortality. Regarding HIV and infant feeding, the head of the delegation mentioned that 95% of the children living with HIV have been infected through mother-to-child transmission and that services are being put in place in order to stop mother-to-child transmission of HIV in newborns.

Finally, the Dominican delegation expressed the commitment of the government to collect data on breastfeeding (including on the rate of exclusive breastfeeding under 6 months) in a more comprehensive way in view of the next review by the CRC Committee.

Concluding Observations

In relation with infant and young child feeding, the Committee made several indirect and direct recommendations to the Dominican Republic in its Concluding Observations.
Concerning health and health services, the Dominican Republic was asked to strengthen efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality by taking into account the OHCHR Technical guidance on child mortality(§ 50b) which includes specific recommendations on breastfeeding protection (including the implementation of the International Code) and promotion. It was also urged to establish and independent mechanism for investigating cases of child and maternal mortality and to apply legal sanctions whenever such cases are due to health personnel negligence (§ 50c), as well as to undertake all necessary measures to ensure that adequate safe water and sanitation are available, especially in hospitals (§ 50f).

Specifically referring to breastfeeding, the Committee expressed its concerns about the low rate of exclusive breastfeeding under 6 months (6.7% in 2013), the early introduction of other foods, as well as the frequent recommendations of breastmilk substitutes by the health personnel. Therefore, it urged the Dominican Republic to increase efforts to eliminate child malnutrition (§50d) and to promote breastfeeding through educational campaigns. It also requested the State party to adequately implement the Strategic Plan on Breastfeeding (2012-2016), the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and the Child-Friendly Hospital initiative [...], and to strengthen maternity protection (§ 50e).