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Opportunities for strengthening infant and young child feeding policies in South Asia: Insights from the SAIFRN policy analysis project

Future Health Systems

Thow AM, Karn S, Devkota MD, Rasheed S, Roy SK, Suleman Y, Hazir T, Patel A, Gaidhane A, Puri S, Godakandage S, Senarath U and Dibley MJ (2017) Opportunities for strengthening infant and young child feeding policies in South Asia: Insights from the SAIFRN policy analysis project, BMC Public Health, 17(Suppl 2):404 DOI: 10.1186/s12889-017-4336-2


Background: South Asian countries experience some of the highest levels of child undernutrition in the world, strongly linked to poor infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. Strong and responsive policy support is essential for effective interventions to improve IYCF. This study aimed to identify opportunities for strengthening the policy environment in the region to better support appropriate infant and young child feeding.

Methods: We mapped policies relevant to infant and young child feeding in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, based on a common matrix. The matrix described potentially relevant policies ranging from high-level strategic policy documents to implementation-level guidelines. We analyzed the data based on themes focused on caregiver interactions with IYCF interventions: provision of correct information to mothers, training of frontline workers, enabling mothers to engage with service providers and strategic support for IYCF.

Results: Policy support for IYCF was present in relation to each of the themes assessed. In all countries, there was support for nutrition in National Development Plans, and all countries had some level of maternity protection and restrictions on marketing of breast milk substitutes. Sectoral and implementation-level policy documents contained provisions for system strengthening for IYCF and for training of frontline workers.

Conclusions: The key opportunities for strengthening IYCF policy support were in relation to translating strategic directives into implementation level documents; improving multi-sectoral support and coordination; and increased clarity regarding roles and responsibilities of frontline workers interacting with mothers. These findings can support efforts to strengthen IYCF policy at the national and regional level.