WHO Warns Against Melamine Contamination In South-East Asia

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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WHO's South-East Asia Regional Office is alerting Member States to possible dangers of distribution and consumption of melamine-contaminated milk products in the Region. Contaminated batches of infant formula or other milk-containing products such as biscuits, chocolates and snack food have reportedly been exported to Member States in South-East Asia, posing a serious public health risk, especially to infants.

So far no cases of infants with kidney stones or other kidney problems (e.g. anuria, renal failure) related to the consumption of infant formula have been reported in the Member States in the South East Asia Region.

WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for all infants for the first six months of their lives. No other liquid or food, not even water, is needed during this period. Thereafter, infants should receive adequate and safe supplementary foods, while breastfeeding can continue up to two years of age and beyond.

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Replacing powdered infant formula with other products such as condensed milk, honey mixed with milk, or fresh milk is not recommended as this could compromise safety and nutrition.

WHO's South-East Asia Regional office (WHO-SEARO) is taking steps to support Member States in dealing with the issue. Information on reported and confirmed contaminated products, including a compilation of official test results obtained through the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), has been shared with all Member States.

This information is being regularly updated to alert authorities to potentially contaminated products, including non-dairy products such as eggs which could carry over melamine from animal feed. The Organization has been supporting Member States in acquiring appropriate rapid test kits to detect melamine in milk and milk products. Information on approved laboratories and analytical methods to detect melamine has also been shared. WHO recommends that countries set standards for maximum limits of melamine content in food products. A surveillance case definition based on clinical manifestations, key diagnostic criteria (notably ultrasound examination features) and guidelines on differential diagnosis, clinical treatment and necessary medical follow-up have also been provided to Member States.

In response to WHO's initiative, several countries in the Region have taken action and are currently sharing information bilaterally and with the Organization. Rapid test kits have been supplied to Myanmar and Thailand. Maldives has shared a first list of locally imported products found to be contaminated with melamine. Various South-East Asia Region countries are accelerating procedures to set legal maximum legal limits for melamine content in food products. WHO will continue to work closely with Member States to protect infants from health risks from melamine contamination.

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