Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Goodbye to a breastfeeding champion

We at UNICEF were deeply saddened today to hear of the passing of Dr. Natividad R. Clavano, a passionate breastfeeding champion and advocate. By instituting a breastfeeding-only policy and eliminating infant formula in Baguio General Hospital, Dr. Clavano saved many children's lives: the hospital's newborn death rate dropped by 95 per cent!

Below, I repeat the citation made in honour of Dr. Clavano when she received the Order of the Golden Heart from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 14 August 2006.

The Order of the Golden Heart is conferred to Dr. Natividad R. Clavano for her pioneering work in breastfeeding advocacy, and infant and young child feeding

Dr. Natividad N. Relucio Clavano is hereby awarded the Order of the Golden Heart in the field of Pediatrics, where she pioneered in Young Child Feeding with her work in the "Under-Five Clinic National Program," and in Infant Feeding with her work on the "Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative" (subsequently replicated in 192 countries) which made her famous all over the world, where she banned infant formula milk from the Maternity Ward of Baguio General Hospital and enforced a regime of "rooming-in" of the infant.

She graduated as a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Sto. Tomas, and took her post-graduate Studies in Pediatrics in the Institute of Child Health (1974-75), London University; consequently she was given a travel grant to travel to East and West Africa, India and Thailand to observe Child Health practices; secured a fellowship in Human Milk Banking in Paris and London, got a scholarship for Lactation Management in the United States.

Dr. Natividad Clavano became the first and foremost Breastfeeding Advocate in the world, having started her involvement in the movement in 1975. In May 1978, Dr. Clavano of Baguio General Hospital in the Philippines traveled to Washington DC to attend a hearing of a US Senate Subcommittee under the chairmanship of Senator Ted Kennedy, where she galvanized the entire world with 10,000-baby study in her hospital by the total elimination of baby milk formula bottles and teats, from the maternity wards, resulted in a very dramatic reduction of infant illness and mortality. Senator Ted Kennedy joined the crusade against the milk companies and publicly demanded that the World Health Organization (WHO) do something about it. In 1981, three years later, the WHO/UNICEF passed the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and Other Related Products. The passing of the International Milk Code in 1981 is traceable to the appearance of Dr. Clavano in the Kennedy Subcommittee. In 1986, five years later, the revolutionary government of President Corazon Aquino signed into law Executive Order 51, known as the National Milk Code.

News of Dr. Clavano's passing spread far and fast among the breastfeeding advocates. Mian, my co-worker in UNICEF who is now in UNICEF East Timor, sent this email:

This news really saddens me. She has really had a great impact on my life. It
was through her that I truly understood, learned and believed about breastfeeding. I remember back in the early eighties when I joined UNICEF, I trooped along with the health section, DOH and NGOs to Baguio. And I sat through her lecture on breastfeeding. Her facts were mind openers and her intense passion convinced me that I shall breastfeed my children when I will have them [Mian breastfed all of her three children]. Dr. Clavano is a rare character. I am sure we shall all miss her.

And here's an SMS from Ines Fernandez of Arugaan and Save Babies Coalition:

Our breastfeeding doctor warrior passed away awaiting the Supreme Court's final verdict on the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Milk Code.


tanya@motherwearblog said...

What an incredible woman! Thank you for posting about her so that others like me can learn about the impact she has had on babies in the Philippines and around the world!

Anonymous said...

Yes Tanya, she really was an incredible woman. Despite her tiny frame she had great achievements in the promotion of maternal and child welfare. It was through her endeavors that a well baby clinic in the Philippines was established in the 70’s decade and I’m proud to say that I am one of her beneficiaries. She was headstrong and determined, strict but passionate in her global pursuit of wellness.

Anonymous said...

i was privileged to be associated very briefly with dr clavano in 1997 on a study linking breastfeeding, or the lack of it, to pulmonary tuberculosis. soon after she got me in, i accepted a career assignment that took me away from her team. i wonder if that work eventually saw print.