It’s international breastfeeding week, and the South African Breastmilk Reserve is speaking out against the widespread looting of baby formula during last month’s unprecedented riots.
The annual event usually takes place in the first week of August.
This year’s theme focuses on how breastfeeding contributes to the survival, health and wellbeing of mothers in the wake of the deadly insurrection that killed more than 300 people.
Baby formula supplies hit during looting sprees
At least 800 retailers were affected by the looting, and 161 malls and shopping centres were destroyed, creating one of the most devastating attacks on KwaZulu-Natal food supply chain in the days that followed.
During the unrest, mothers took to social media making impassioned pleas for baby essentials – key among them, baby formula.
The situation was exacerbated as recipes for homemade formula milk also flooded timelines.
“Formula-dependent mothers in KZN experienced additional trauma during an ongoing pandemic by not having access to milk,” said South African Civil Society for Women, Adolescents and Children’s nutrition lead, Dr Chantelle Witten.
The chaos highlighted the fragility of the country’s food system, and growing concerns around food security for most people.
“There were also pleas for the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) to mobilise support for the human milk banks affected by the riots,” explained SA Breastmilk Reserve executive director Stasha Jordan.
An emergency stakeholder group consisting of lactation consultants, human milk bankers, healthcare professionals and policymakers was formed, and activated a breastmilk drive that resulted in the collection of 100 units of breastmilk, which was transported to the facility in Durban by a network of volunteers.
In the days that followed, transport routes to KZN were re-opened, and the SABR courier services were able to collect and dispatch an additional 500 units of breastmilk to human milk banks nationally.
“This new collaboration among breastfeeding health advocates has heightened our awareness and appreciation of the invaluable role of breastfeeding, especially in a time of crisis.
“At the same time, the urgent calls for infant formula laid bare just how fragile the infant feeding landscape remains to this day,” said Jordan.
Now more than ever, the KZN situation has highlighted the need to expand and intensify efforts to support breastfeeding mothers throughout the health system, in their workplaces and their social settings.
“Without a strong culture of breastfeeding, raising donations for human milk banking becomes very difficult,” says Witten.