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Support Infants and Young Children in Australian Emergencies

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This petition was developed out of a Call for Action on emergency planning for infants and young children created by the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) Australia and supported by 38 of Australia's leading health, women's, children's, and emergency organisations. It asks the Australian Government to take steps to ensure that our youngest children are kept safe in emergencies. If you would like to support this Call for Action, please sign this petition and consider sending a copy of it to your Federal Member of Parliament asking them to encourage the government to take the steps it describes. Please only sign the petition if you live in Australia and please comment on which state/territory you are from and why you signed it. If you are a representative of an organisation that would like to be added to the list of supporting organisations please email wbtiaus@gmail.com.

INFANT AND YOUNG CHILD FEEDING IN EMERGENCIES: CALL FOR ACTION

Infants and young children are vulnerable in emergencies due to their immature immune systems, very specific food and fluid needs, and reliance on others for care needs. The summer of 2019-2020 generated the need for emergency responses across Australia due to bushfire. No consistent support was provided to those caring for infants and young children, including regarding their feeding. As a result, infant health was placed at risk due to premature cessation of breastfeeding and unsafe formula feeding practices. The COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted health services, adding to anxiety and stress for new mothers about their child’s health and development.

Emergencies in Australia are commonly associated with heat, disruption of water, power, and food supplies, reduction in communication and health services, and with a need for evacuation to locations with limited amenities. These conditions heighten the importance of supporting mothers to continue breastfeeding where ever possible. They also mean that formula dependent infants require targeted support to enable continuity of supply of safe infant formula, safe water, power, and health care.

However, the need to protect, promote, and support appropriate and safe infant feeding in emergencies (IYCF-E) has been overlooked in Australian emergency planning. In 2018, WBTi Australia audited Federal and State and Territory government emergency planning and revealed a dearth of content dealing with the needs of infants and young children at all levels of government. It found that no government agency has responsibility for ensuring that infants and young children are protected, through well-coordinated and appropriate emergency planning and response.

In 2019, Australian Federal and State and Territory governments endorsed the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy. Australian governments agreed it was a national priority that a policy on infant and young child feeding in emergencies be developed and that skilled breastfeeding and lactation support be available during emergencies. In 2018, Australia as a member of the World Health Assembly also agreed that all countries should:

‘Take all necessary measures to ensure evidence-based and appropriate infant and young child feeding during emergencies, including through preparedness plans, capacity-building of personnel working in emergency situations, and coordination of intersectoral operations’.

National, State, Territory, and Local Governments, logistics and evacuation centre managers, health workers, nutrition experts, and child protection workers should support caregivers of infants to mitigate the adverse impacts of emergencies on their feeding, health, and wellbeing. However, they cannot do so without planning and guidance identifying and addressing their needs. World Health Assembly-endorsed guidance on IYCF-E exists to guide governments and non-government organisations on how to ensure appropriate aid delivery. However, this guidance has not been adapted to the Australian context.

We urge the Australian Government to protect the health and wellbeing of infants in future emergencies by taking the following actions:

1. Urgently designate the Australian Government Department of Health as the national agency responsible for providing advice and support to the states and territories on IYCF-E in the Commonwealth Disaster Response Plan.

2. Establish and appropriately fund a national advisory committee on IYCF-E, composed of stakeholders from governments, academe, emergency and health-related non-government organisations, and excluding commercial interests, to adapt international IYCF-E guidance to the Australian context and develop national planning principles for IYCF-E .

3. Commission the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience to develop an Emergency Handbook on children including IYCF-E.

4. Include detailed advice for health workers on how to support mothers and other caregivers of infants in emergency preparedness, and in the feeding and care of infants and young children during emergencies in the updated National Health and Medical Research Council’s Infant Feeding Guidelines for Health Workers

Supported by:

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine

Adventist Relief Agency (ADRA)

Australian Association of Social Workers

Australian Breastfeeding Association

Australian College of Children’s and Young People’s Nurses

Australian College of Midwives

Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine

Australian Federation of Medical Women

Australian Health Promotion Association

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

Australian Women’s Health Network

Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative

Breastfeeding Advocacy Australia

Breastfeeding Coalition Tasmania

Centre of Perinatal Excellence

Council of Single Mothers and their Children

Equality Rights Alliance- Women’s Voices for Gender Equality

Gender and Disaster Pod

Homebirth Australia

International Lactation Consultant Association

Lactation Consultants Australia New Zealand

Maternal Scholars Australia

Maternal, Child and Family Health Nurses Australia

Maternity Choices Australia

Maternity Consumer Network

National Foundation for Australian Women

National Rural Health Alliance

Perinatal Society of Australia New Zealand

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Association (PANDA)

Public Health Association of Australia

Safe Motherhood for All

Salvation Army

Save the Children Australia

Soroptimist International Australia

UNICEF Australia

VicHealth

Zonta Districts 22 and 23


Photo credit: Families take refuge from Bushfire on New Year's Day 2020, Malua Bay, NSW. Alex Coppel/Newspix

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